Release of political prisoners not enough: Byalyatski, Litvina urge EU to keep Belarus in view

Human rights defender Ales Byalyatski and Zhanna Litvina, a former chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), discussed the human rights situation in Belarus with high-ranking EU officials while staying in Brussels on February 2-3.

They had meetings with Helga Schmidt, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service, Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s special representative for human rights, and other EU officials while in Brussles, news agency BelaPAN reports.

Ales Byalyatski, who chairs the HRC ‘Vyasna’, and Zhanna Litvina called on the European Union not to shift its focus away from the human rights situation in Belarus and to continue putting pressure on Belarusian authorities to improve their human rights record.

They noted that the release of the political prisoners in Belarus in August 2015 had not been followed by any other improvements in the human rights and democracy situation, and that the October 2015 presidential election in Belarus had been marred by multiple violations of electoral regulations and ballot rigging.

The delegates pointed out that authorities had ignored a petition calling for democratization, an end to the persecution of opposition activists and non-state media, the registration of opposition organizations, and the declaration of a moratorium on the death penalty.

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Mr. Byalyatski’s and Ms. Litvina’s visit comes two weeks before the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is expected to decide whether to re-impose its restrictive measures against Belarusian authorities, prolong their suspension or abolish them altogether. The EU representatives promised that democracy and human rights issues would remain at the top of the Belarus-EU agenda irrespective of the Council’s decision.

On October 29, 2015, the EU foreign ministers voted to suspend the application of the restrictions against 171 Belarusian individuals and 10 economic entities for four months, ‘in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on August 22 and in the context of improving EU-Belarus relations’. Simultaneously, the Foreign Affairs Council prolonged its restrictive measures, due to expire on October 31, until February 29, 2016.

The Council drew up their blacklist of Belarusian individuals and economic entities in January 2011, following a brutal police crackdown on a post-election protest in Minsk. The list was repeatedly extended and included as many as 243 Belarusian individuals and 32 business entities at one point.

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