Belarus Arrests Leading Human Rights Activist

Posted August 5th, 2011 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Authorities in Belarus have arrested the country's leading human rights activist, amid mounting international criticism of the Minsk government's continued clampdown on the opposition and civil society.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Friday condemned the arrest of Ales Belyatsky, calling it the “latest example of persecution.”

Belarus police arrested Belyatsky, founder of the human rights group Vyasna, late Thursday near his home in Minsk on charges of tax evasion. In a statement, Vyasna denounced the case as political, saying the charges against Belyatsky are “punishment and retribution” for his long-running work in defending human rights.

Vyasna since the late 1990s has provided legal assistance to Belarusians fined, arrested or imprisoned for criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko, including those prosecuted in connection with last December's rally against his election to a fourth term in office. The group also runs a website offering information about alleged cases of human rights violations.

Dozens of people were sentenced to prison terms for taking part in the December protest, including several former presidential candidates. The opposition has since been holding rallies in which they clap but otherwise remain silent to protest Mr. Lukashenko's authoritarian rule and a deepening economic crisis.

In a statement, the OSCE expressed “deep concern” about the continued decline of the human rights situation in Belarus, including what it called the “systematic stifling” of the media and freedom of assembly. The current OSCE chief, called on Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and civil society activists, and comply with its OSCE commitments.

In June, the OSCE issued a special report accusing Mr. Lukashenko's government of systematically using fear, harassment, torture and blackmail to clamp down on its citizens.

U.S. President Barack Obama also has criticized the repression in Belarus, saying Mr. Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law and his own people.

The United States and the European Union have imposed numerous sanctions against his government.

Belarus also is facing economic turmoil with its national currency plunging in value and soaring consumer prices.