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Belarus Human Rights Worsens

The human rights situation in Belarus got worse in 2004 according to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report. Belarusian citizens are denied the right to change their government. An October 2004 referendum removed term limits for the office of president. Both the referendum and simultaneous parliamentary elections failed to meet democratic standards.

The government of President Aleksander Lukashenko has made no credible effort to solve the presumed killing of journalist Dmitry Zavadskiy and opposition figures Yuryiy Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky.

In a move that perpetuates the climate of abuse, Belarusian authorities appointed Viktor Sheiman as head of the presidential administration. Mr. Sheiman is linked to the disappearances of Zavadskiy, Zakharenko, Gonchar and Zavadsky.

The Lukashenko government continues to target political opponents. In December 2004, a court sentenced opposition figure Mikhail Marinich to five years in prison -- later reduced to three-and-a-half years -- on a politically motivated charge of having stolen equipment from a non-governmental organization. In fact, the equipment was property of the U.S. government, which made no claim against Marinich regarding its disposition.

In 2004, the Lukashenko government suspended twenty-five independent newspapers and interfered with others. Belarusian authorities impose huge fines on journalists and editors for criticism of Mr. Lukashenko or his supporters.

The people of Belarus are eager to see democratic change come to their country. The U.S. supports their aspirations, says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

"To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny -- and America stands with oppressed people on every continent -- in Cuba, and Burma, and North Korea and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe. The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the ‘town square test’: if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a ‘fear society’ has finally won their freedom."

It is in America’s interest to advance the cause of freedom. That means that the U.S. will support the development and growth of democratic movements and institutions around the world, including Belarus.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.