Mr. President, in recent days the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s office opened criminal proceedings against one of the leaders of the embattled Belarusian democratic opposition, Anatoly Lebedka. Anatoly, who is chairman of the United Civic Party, has been accused of defaming Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko during an interview with Russian television last month where he linked the recent Belarusian-Russian dispute over gas deliveries with the Belarusian authorities’ failure to build an efficient economy. Anatoly also mentioned a shadow budget replenished through illegal arms sales and the cover-up of the truth about political disappearances in Belarus.
Given the pattern of behavior of the Lukashenko regime, it is crystal clear that this case is politically motivated and designed to suppress dissent. Lebedka’s United Civic Party is a member of the Popular Coalition Five Plus, an opposition bloc which is planning to field candidates in this fall’s parliamentary elections.
The action against Anatoly Lebedka and on the opposition fits squarely within a pattern of the suppression of independent thought and action in Belarus. Lukashenko’s repression of those who would dare to challenge him has only intensified over the past year. Just last week, a criminal case was opened against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee chairperson Tatiana Protska and accountant Tatiana Rudkevich. This comes after politically-motivated economic sanctions were imposed on the Committee recently. Also within the last few days, a court seized property of Iryna Makavetskaya, a correspondent for one of Belarus’ leading independent newspapers, Beloruskaya Delovaya Gazeta.
Lukashenko has a choice–he can continue to act as a pariah, suppressing the voices of democracy in Belarus, or he can realize that the only way to reverse his self-imposed isolation from the international community and increasingly, from his own people is to end his offensive against democracy and civil society.
Meanwhile, it is essential that the United States back up its rhetorical support for democratic forces in Belarus through concrete assistance. Earlier this Congress, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act, a measure with bipartisan support designed to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. In light of the campaign of repression against democratic forces in Belarus, timely consideration of the Belarus Democracy Act is warranted. I urge colleagues to support this important legislation.