Leading MEPs on EU-Belarus relations condemn the new wave of arrests of presidential election candidates, opposition politicians and peaceful protesters in the country.
On Tuesday, Robert Biedroń, Chair of the EP’s delegation for relations with Belarus, and Petras Auštrevičius, the EP’s Standing Rapporteur on Belarus, expressed deep concern over the continued failure of the Belarusian authorities to improve the election environment and their manifest lack of intention to create conditions for a genuine level-playing field between the candidates. They recalled that less than a week ago they had deplored the crackdown on peaceful protesters and civil society activists in Belarus.
“Regrettably, in recent days we have been witnessing a substantial deterioration of the situation. We strongly oppose the actions carried out this weekend, which have led to the repeated detention of video blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski and opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich, who was subsequently sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention, and the arrests of dozens of others who attended peaceful and legal signature collection campaign events across the country,” the statement reads.
According to them, these provocations constitute yet another attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as a direct interference into the election process with the aim to prevent candidates from collecting the number of signatures required for the official presidential nomination.
“We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all the citizens who have been unjustly arrested and to put an immediate halt on this unacceptable wave of repression. In case of further arbitrary arrests and restrictions for Belarusian citizens to freely exercise their political rights, we will see no other option but to seek for a review of the European Union’s policy towards Belarus, including new sanctions targeting the officials responsible for these actions,” the two MEPs warn.
In turn, the leaders of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s human rights committee, Chair Kyriakos Hadjiyianni (Cyprus), Vice-Chair Michael Link (Germany), and Rapporteur Kari Henriksen (Norway), released the following statement:
“With an important election just two months away, it is crucial that the authorities in Belarus do all they can to enable a thorough and open campaign environment. We are very concerned that the detention of prominent political activists not only inhibits the work of potential campaigns, but has a chilling effect on society. We therefore call on the authorities to exercise utmost restraint in the run-up to the important 9 August presidential election, and hope for a more free environment than we have previously witnessed.”