A court in Belarus has convicted four members of Partnership, a non-partisan monitoring group for training Belarusians how to observe elections and educate them on their rights as voters. Nikolai Astreiko, Timofei Dranchuk, Aleksandr Shalaiko, and Enira Bronitskaya received prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for "slandering the president and illegally running an unregistered organization."
In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the conviction of the "four independent election observers. The politically motivated trial," said Mr. McCormack, "continues a disturbing pattern by the authorities to intimidate civil society activists and to further erode the democratic process in Belarus."
Since the fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in March 2006, Belarusian authorities have arrested dozens of protesters and opposition political leaders. In July, a court sentenced one of his challengers, Alexander Kozulin, to five-and-a-half years in prison for organizing a rally in April to protest the rigged presidential election.
Alexander Milinkevich, another opposition leader, called the conviction a "political execution" of those trying to hold the government accountable for its behavior. "This trial demonstrates the arbitrariness of administrative and command rule and the complete absence of any control over the power," Mr. Milinkevich said in a statement.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O-S-C-E, expressed deep concern over the jailing of the independent election monitors. Chairman of the O-S-C-E Karel De Gucht said, "all four have done nothing to merit imprisonment."
It is incumbent on the government of Belarus to release the Partnership activists and all others being held on politically motivated charges. Until then, the U.S. will impose additional restrictions on the Belarusian authorities responsible for the latest convictions.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.