Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich along with several others was arrested and sentenced to fifteen days in prison. Their so-called crime was to take part in an "unsanctioned march" commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. An event is held each year to mark the anniversary. But in the wake of a fraudulent presidential election on March 19th, the march took on political overtones, as several speakers criticized the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The arrest of Mr. Milinkevich and his associates is the latest in a series of measures aimed at silencing the Belarusian opposition, says U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli:
"We condemn these actions and we call on the authorities to immediately release those detained and drop the charges against them. I would note that both we and the European Union have already announced measures to hold accountable officials responsible for these abuses. And we will continue working with our European partners to maintain a united front in the face of this gross assault on values that we all share."
The United States and European Union imposed travel restrictions on senior members of the Belarusian government responsible for election fraud and other abuses. According to official results, Mr. Lukashenko received over eighty percent of the vote and Mr. Milinkevich won a mere six percent.
In protest, thousands of opposition supporters led a series of demonstrations in Minsk, the capital. On March 24th and 25th, police forcibly broke up opposition rallies and arrested hundreds of protesters, including another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, who remains in jail.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the jailing of Belarusian opposition leaders "reprehensible." The Belarusian government, she said, should "accept the will of the international community that it act in accordance with accepted international principles." The U.S., in partnership with the E-U, will continue to help the Belarusian people to achieve a representative government that respects their rights.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.