Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Cardin, U.S. Delegation Secure Release of U.S. Prisoner in Belarus

MINSK, BELARUS—At the urging of U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and a seven-member Congressional delegation in Minsk today, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka signed official documents releasing American prisoner Emanuel Zeltser.

Mr. Zeltser has been in a Belarus prison since March 2008 after being convicted in a secret trial. Arrangements are being made for Zeltser to be released tonight. Doctors have said that Mr. Zeltser’s life depends on his release. The Helsinki Commission has consistently advocated for his release due to concerns over Zeltser’s health and the fact he was convicted of espionage in a closed trial.

Despite the gesture, Chairman Cardin reminded President Lukashenka that improvements in human rights and democracy in Belarus remain critical to changing the U.S. relationship with the former Soviet state.

“We welcome the release of Emanuel Zeltser on humanitarian grounds. However, we made it clear to President Lukashenka today that the only way to improve the relationship between our countries is for him to increase political freedom and respect for human rights,” said Chairman Cardin. “Belarus should make progress on the conditions laid out in the Belarus Democracy Act if the country is to see any changes in U.S. sanctions here.”

The delegation also met today with political activists – several of whom have been imprisoned for opposing President Lukashenka. Political opposition, non-government organizations, and independent media lack freedom in Belarus. In response to an expansion of U.S. sanctions against Belarus, President Lukashenka kicked out approximately 30 diplomats from Minsk last year. The U.S. Embassy is now down to a staff of five. The delegation today called for Belarus to allow for an increased U.S. diplomatic presence.

“There is much President Lukashenka can do to put Belarus back on a path toward positive engagement with the United States. One start would be to restore staffing of our embassy in Minsk, but more importantly the country needs to undergo political reform, including changes to make the 2011 elections free and fair,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“The Helsinki Commission and the U.S. Congress have a long standing interest in Belarus’ democracy and independence. All the talking in the world doesn’t change the fact that President Lukashenka must act. The ball is in his court,” said Commission Ranking Minority Member Smith, the author of the Belarus Democracy Act in the U.S. Congress.

The U.S. delegation included Chairman Cardin, Senator Durbin, Commission Ranking Minority Member Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Commissioner Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Commissioner Representative Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Commissioner Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Commissioner Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Hearings

Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Freeing Inte...

Oct 25, 2023

The practice of seizing hostages and political prisoners, as well as actively terrorizing civilians is a constant displayed by Hamas in Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine. To highlight issues related to the United States’ strategy to free hostages and political prisoners, last year the Commission’s Ranking Member Congressman Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of N...

Jun 23, 2023

Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on...

Feb 20, 2023

WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Shutdown of Novaya Gazeta

Sep 08, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today condemned the shutdown of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, following the decision of a Moscow court to strip the outlet of its print media registration. They issued the following joint […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses Role as Special Represen...

Sep 07, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09) today spoke at a virtual hearing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA)about his new role as the assembly’s special representative for political prisoners. Co-Chairman Cohen thanked OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt of Sweden for naming him to the special representative role […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Former Yekateri...

Aug 29, 2022

WASHINGTON—Following the arrest of the Kremlin critic and former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeniy Roizman, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “The arrest and prosecution of Yevgeniy Roizman is another milestone in the Kremlin’s descent into a full-blown dictatorship. “Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Calls for the Release of Political...

Aug 09, 2022

Washington – On the second anniversary of the sham presidential election in Belarus, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Two years ago today, Belarus’s autocrat Aleksander Lukashenko put up a show of an election that he had hoped would legitimize his […]

screen-reader-text