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Commissioners Outraged Over Lukashenka Threats Against Belarusian Opposition Leaders

WASHINGTON – Commission on Security and Cooperation Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) today condemned remarks by Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka threatening to punish the Belarusian opposition for “seeking money overseas” to overthrow his government and viewing them as security threats. His remarks come on the heels of last week’s visit to the U.S. by leading members of Belarus’ democratic opposition.

The Belarusian opposition delegation, which met with Members of Congress, including Helsinki Commissioners, government officials and non-governmental organizations, consisted of Vintsuk Vyachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front; Anatol Lebedka, head of the United Civic Party; Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of “Nasha Svaboda,” an independent newspaper; and Dmitry Bondarenko, a leader of the Charter-97 human rights group. Mr. Lebedka, who is also a member of Belarus’ legitimate parliament illegally disbanded by Lukashenka in 1996, recently testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing on the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Belarus.

“Lukashenka’s latest outburst is yet another in a long list of threats or worse – including detentions or beatings – against those who dare to question his democratic legitimacy and criticize his suppression of human rights in their long-suffering country,” said Chairman Smith. “Opposition leaders have disappeared or been imprisoned, and the independent media has been harassed. If Mr. Lukashenka wants to create a climate of trust for the Fall parliamentary elections, as he apparently pledged to do yesterday, treating opposition members as security threats because of their meetings in Washington is outrageous.”

Co-Chairman Campbell expressed grave concern about the personal safety of opposition members, noting the detention and beating of Mr. Lebedka following a March 25 pro-democracy demonstration in the Belarusian capital of Miensk, which was harshly suppressed by the authorities. “Instead of making threats against democratic activists, Mr. Lukashenka should be seeking to resolve the political and constitutional crisis in Belarus by respecting human rights and putting an end to the current climate of fear,” Campbell said. “This includes ceasing repressions of those who seek to bring democracy to Belarus. The democratic opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law.” Campbell stressed the ominous nature of the threats, given similar statements issued by Lukashenka prior to the disappearance of a leading opposition figure last year.

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