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Belarus Allows Election Observers

The government of Belarus has invited the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O-S-C-E, to send observers to monitor Belarus' presidential election on March 19th.

Kyle Scott of the U.S. mission to the O-S-C-E called it "a very welcome step." But the government of President Alexander Lukashenko must do a great deal more to ensure that the upcoming election is free and fair. For starters, it needs to stop harassing human rights organizations like the Belarus Helsinki Committee.

The Belarus Supreme Economic Court recently reinstated harsh and unwarranted penalties against the Belarus Helsinki Committee for alleged tax evasion. The court ordered the Belarus Helsinki Committee to pay approximately seventy-five thousand dollars in fines and back taxes. The decision could also result in criminal prosecution of officials. The U.S. believes this prosecution is politically motivated.

The court decision appears to be an attempt to silence one of the most outspoken advocates for human rights in Belarus. It also casts doubt on the Belarusian government's commitment to its O-S-C-E obligations. The Belarus Helsinki Committee has successfully defended itself from such charges a number of times. The Belarusian government's pursuit of the same charges against the human rights organization calls into question the independence of the courts and the rule of law in Belarus.

The U.S. supports the work of the Belarus Helsinki Committee in advancing freedom and democracy. It urges the Belarus Supreme Economic Court to reconsider its decision and desist from harassing an independent non-governmental organization.

With the presidential election rapidly approaching, organizations that support freedom of speech and assembly are vital to a free and fair campaign in Belarus. "What the United States will always support," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "is the evolution of democratic processes around the world and the desire of people to tap into the aspirations of their populations for freedom. And we will support the idea that elections, when they are held, should be real elections. They should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be prepared and ready to help Belarus to carry out free and fair elections in 2006."

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