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Senator Sam Brownback, Chairman
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
February 24, 2006



(Washington) - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the complete absence of political freedom in Belarus and the implications this has on its upcoming elections.

Freedom Denied:
Belarus on the Eve of the Elections
Thursday, March 9, 2006
2:00-4:00 PM
Room 138, Dirksen Senate Office Building

Testifying before the Commission will be:

Representative of the U.S. Government

David J. Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Witnesses from NGOs

Stephen B. Nix, Regional Program Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute

Rodger Potocki, Senior Program Officer for East Central Europe, National Endowment for Democracy

Iryna Vidanava, Belarusian Activist, Editor-in-Chief, Students’ Thought

Celeste A. Wallander, Director of the Russia and Eurasian Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka – Europe’s last dictator. The Belarusian strongman’s power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country’s constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists.

The Commission hearing will examine developments in Belarus in the lead up to the elections, including the pre-election crackdown, efforts to foster democracy and civil society, the international community's increased focus on the country as well as post-election policy options. 

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

Media Contact: Sean Woo
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