Durbin Visits Belarus

Meets with Opposition Leaders, Human Rights Activists, and Families

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) spent Friday in Minsk, Belarus, following two days of high-level meetings in Lithuania. Durbin, who was in Lithuania to address that nation’s parliament, made a side trip to Belarus following a violent crackdown surrounding presidential elections last month.


Last month, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka claimed a fourth term as president - an announcement that was followed by violent confrontations in the capital, Minsk. Opposition presidential candidates and protesters were arrested and face considerable jail time. 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 have issued strong statements condemning the election process and the subsequent crackdown on opposition leaders.


While in Minsk, Durbin met with opposition leaders, human rights activists and families of jailed activists and candidates. He also called for the release of those jailed since December’s elections:


“The U.S government and European Union have emphatically called for the unconditional release of all detained opposition leaders. Today, I reiterate that call,” Durbin said. “The Belarusian government must release all detainees and resume the path toward democracy. 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.”


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 Lukashenka 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 Lukashenka have disappeared or been imprisoned. Insulting the president, even in jest, carries a prison sentence.


"Not only has any semblance of democracy been shattered by the arrest of anyone running against Lukashenka, but his government has brazenly denied visitation rights for family members, access to legal counsel, medical care, and open court proceedings, as well as continuing to harass the families and lawyers of the detainees. Such actions must be halted immediately," Durbin said.


Durbin will return to the U.S. this afternoon.