Durbin, Lieberman, Lead Bipartisan Resolution Condemning Political Oppression in Belarus
Senate Leaders Call For Immediate Release of Political Prisoners
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a resolution today, condemning recent Belarusian elections as illegitimate and calling on the Belarusian regime to immediately release all political prisoners. The resolution also calls for expansion of the list of Belarusian officials who are subject to U.S. and European Union travel and financial sanctions, new elections in Belarus that meet international standards, expanded EU sanctions against the Belarusian oil and petrochemical company Belneftekhim and its subsidiaries, direct material assistance to the Belarusian opposition, and for the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend the 2014 Ice Hockey Championship which is to be held in Minsk until all Belarusian political prisoners are released.
Senators McCain (R-AZ), Cardin (D-MD), Shaheen (D-NH), Graham (R-SC), Kyl (R-AZ), Barrasso (R-WY), Udall (D-CO), Kirk (R-IL), and Lautenberg (D-NJ) cosponsored the measure.
“The Belarusian government must release all detainees and resume the path toward democracy,” said Senator Durbin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“If Belarus expects to be part of the world community and expects an improvement of relations with the West, basic human rights and electoral standards must be respected. This puts the Belarusian regime on notice and renews international calls for change. It also says to the people of Belarus that the American people stand with them and we support their quest for freedom.”
"As democratic change sweeps across North Africa and the Middle East, we reaffirm our steadfast commitment to assisting the Belarusian people in their fight for freedom in Europe’s last dictatorship. We cannot stand by idly as Lukashenko makes a mockery of democracy and brutally suppresses the fundamental human rights and aspirations of the Belarusian people. We urge our partners in Europe and beyond to join the United States in taking further targeted actions against the Lukashenko regime and in strongly supporting the voices of freedom and democracy in Belarus,” Senator Lieberman said.
Often known as the “last dictatorship of Europe,” Belarus has defied the democratic transformations in Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country’s 10 million people became independent in 1991 and have been ruled with an increasingly iron fist since 1994, when Alexander Lukashenko was first elected president. Opposition figures are subject to harsh repression, including imprisonment for organizing peaceful protests. Over the years, several opposition politicians who might have been alternatives to Lukashenko have disappeared or been imprisoned. Insulting the president, even in jest, carries a prison sentence.
"The Lukashenko regime is the main impediment to the long-standing vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace," said Senator John McCain. "It is in America’s national interest to support the people of Belarus in realizing their peaceful democratic aspirations."
“This resolution sends a strong signal of our determination to hold the Lukashenko regime to account for its ongoing violations of human rights and democratic norms and to support the Belarusian people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Co-Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
“Violence against pro-democracy activists and arrests of political opponents have repeatedly revealed the nature of the cruel regime under President Lukashenko,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs. “The immediate release of opposition candidates, party leaders, and civil society members must be the first step and should occur without delay. America remains committed to the principle that the Belarusian people be allowed to express their political will freely and without threat of harassment, imprisonment, or violence. The people of Belarus deserve no less, and the U.S. stands firmly on their side.”
“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues and the people of Belarus to urge the Belarusian regime to grant its people basic human rights and fair elections,” said Senator Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees. “This is critical if Lukashenko’s government expects to improve its relations with its neighbors. The world community will not tolerate a leadership that governs by repression and abuse.”
On December 19, Lukashenko claimed a fourth term as president in a vote broadly criticized as unfree and unfair. The election was followed by violent confrontations in the capital, Minsk, as government security forces, still known as the KGB, beat, arrested, and jailed opposition presidential candidates and activists protesting the fraudulent election. Many are facing considerable jail time and have had minimal access to their families or lawyers. Recently released presidential candidate Ales Michalevic described being tortured during his two-month detention at the hands of Lukashenko’s security forces. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the election as seriously flawed and criticized the vote count and violent backlash against opposition candidates. Both the White House and the U.S. State Department strongly condemned the election process and the subsequent crackdown on opposition leaders and the U.S. and EU imposed an initial round of travel and financial sanctions against Lukashenko and his inner circle in late January.
Durbin visited Minsk earlier this year and met with opposition leaders, human rights activists and families of jailed activists and candidates. He also called for the immediate release of those jailed since December’s elections. Senators Lieberman, McCain, Shaheen, and Udall visited Vilnius, Lithuania, earlier this year, where they met with Belarusian opposition leaders as well as Belarusian students at the European Humanities University.
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