Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich has been awarded the Sakharov prize -- the European Union's top human rights award. The prize is named for former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Andrei Sahkarov.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the E-U's decision to award the prize to Mr. Milinkevich "shows that the indomitable human will for open political expression and freedom of speech exemplified by Andrei Sakharov is alive and well in Belarus today."
Alexander Milinkevich was the main challenger to incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko in the March presidential election. According to official results, Mr. Lukashenko received more than eighty percent of the vote, with Mr. Milinkevich garnering a mere six percent. Conducted in environment that was neither free nor fair, the election was condemned by the United States and the European Union.
Following the vote, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the main square in Minsk, the capital, to protest the rigged election. More than two-hundred protesters were arrested. Since that time, the Belarusian government has arrested more than one-thousand democratic activists and human rights defenders. Many more endure intense harassment from the Lukashenko regime on a daily basis. That government, said Mr. McCormack, "continues to hold numerous prisoners of conscience who are being detained solely because they have tried to exercise their fundamental rights, and we urge their immediate release."
In response to the rigged election and the government's violations of human rights, the U.S. has imposed sanctions, including a travel ban and a financial freeze on senior Belarusian officials. The United States is also providing support for the democratic opposition in Belarus.
In a recent interview, Mr. Milinkevich said the Sakharov award does not belong to him alone, but commemorates the struggle of all Belarusian democracy and human rights defenders. "This award," he said, "goes to thousands of people who demonstrated their courage and desire to fight for their dignity and for Belarus during the last [presidential] campaign this spring. And this [award] is the biggest moral support for Belarusian democratic forces."
The United States is proud to stand with the Belarusian people.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.