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Belarus’ President Lukashenka Called on the Carpet by Helsinki Commission for Human Rights Violations

WASHINGTON – Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President of the Republic of Belarus, expressing growing concern about violations of human rights, democracy and rule of law, specifically: the arrest yesterday of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in an “unsanctioned” march; the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir; the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar and others; increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals; the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations; the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96; criminal charges against opposition activists; and, the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday’s Freedom March. The Commission has been concerned about this deterioration in Belarus for quite some time and has raised such issues with the Government of Belarus to little avail.

The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). The full text of the letter follows:

Dear President Lukashenka:

We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government’s seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in “an unsanctioned march.”

Our concerns include the following:

• the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months.

• the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova.

• increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper.

• the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association.

• the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations.

• criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya.

• the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday’s Freedom March.

Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus’ development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected.

Sincerely,

BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S
Co-Chairman

FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S.
Ranking Member

CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C.
Chairman

STENY H. HOYER, M.C.
Ranking Member

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