In the course of Thursday’s ad hoc meeting of EU and Belarus senior officials in Brussels, the EU side reiterated its concerns over Belarus’ lack of observance of fundamental freedoms and the seemingly arbitrary exclusion of candidates from the electoral process.
The EU delegation was led by Luc Devigne, Acting Managing Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the European External Action Service. The delegation of Belarus was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Aleh Krauchanka.
The discussions focused on the situation in the field of human rights and democracy in the context of the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus, the official statement reads. The European Union called on Belarus to release all political activists arbitrarily detained, to ensure their access to legal counsel, as well as for fair, impartial and transparent investigation in all cases.
The bloc also expressed regret that Belarus did not extend in due time the invitation to OSCE/ODIHR and urged its authorities to respect international election standards throughout the rest of the electoral process.
The 2020 presidential voting is to take place on August, 9. Since the beginning of the election campaign, incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s would be rival Viktar Babaryka, might-have been opponent Syarhei Tsikhanouski, politicians Mikalai Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets, as well as dozens of people have been placed into custody. In late June, the Belarusian Interior Ministry also launched a probe into ‘illegal activities’ in which presidential hopeful Valery Tsapkala was allegedly involved.
According to Belarusian human right watchdogs, about 190 people have been arrested for a total of 2,607 days under administrative code articles used for political persecution. As many as 333 people have been fined for more than 265,275 rubles (more than $110,000). Human rights defenders also report at least 1,140 cases of arbitrary detentions that took place between 6 May and 20 July.
European diplomats have repeatedly warned the Belarusian authorities that sanctions against those involved in political persecution could be renewed due to increased repression.