With days to go before the presidential election in Belarus, the authoritarian government of Alexander Lukashenko continues to repress the opposition, media, and civil society groups.
On March 7th and 8th, Belarusian police detained twelve aides to opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, including senior campaign officials, for organizing unsanctioned rallies without government approval. This follows the March 2nd beating and detention of opposition candidate Alexander Kozulin, several of his supporters, and journalists. Belarusian activists from the nonpartisan group Partnership have been in detention since February 21st.
According to a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, voter access in Belarus to political information through the media has been very limited. President Lukashenko has received in excess of ninety-four percent of the coverage devoted to the four presidential candidates on Belarusian television news broadcasts. The government has also tried to prevent the opposition from getting its message out through the independent print media. On March 3rd, Belarusian police seized the entire print run of the newspaper Narodnaya Volya.
The Belarusian opposition has pledged to protest peacefully if it judges the election to be fraudulent. But the country's chief police official, Vladimir Naumov, said all rallies will be banned on election day.
David Kramer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, said the United States and the European Union are "prepared to respond in a most serious way to fraud, abuse, and violence perpetrated by this regime." Mr. Kramer warned "that there will be consequences if the government resorts to force against protesters who have a right to assemble and protest peacefully."
As State Department Acting Spokesman Tom Casey said, the United States “calls again on the Belarusian government to cease repression of political campaigns and civil society groups, and to respect the rights of Belarusian citizens.”
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.