The government of Belarus has stepped up persecution of the political opposition and ordinary citizens. Most recently, groups of protesters have taken to the streets of Minsk, the capital, to voice their opposition to the government's policies. Belarusian police have forcibly broken up these protests, beating political party leader Anatoly Lebedko and Young Front N.G.O. leader Dmitry Fedaruk. Mr. Fedaruk was knocked unconscious when he was pushed to the ground and kicked by riot police.
Both Mr. Fedaruk and Mr. Lebedko were among a recent delegation of Belarus pro-democracy activists who met with President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the use of brutal force against demonstrators in Minsk, in particular the severe beating of Dmitry Fedaruk. "This is another in a long series of repressive acts by the Belarusian authorities against their own citizens," said Mr. McCormack. The United States is concerned for others who have been injured and jailed after recent demonstrations, including Anatoly Lebedko.
Unfortunately, the recent events are part of a wider pattern of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms that have also included administrative pretexts to prevent civil society, such as Aleksandr Milinkevich's "For Freedom" movement, from legally operating. The world has also seen the arbitrary use of state power to close down independent media, such as the newspaper "Novy Chas" in Minsk.
According to U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart, the United States has not ruled out the possibility of imposing additional sanctions on Belarus for refusing to free political prisoners and repressing basic political rights. The U.S. considers six jailed Belarusian opposition activists to be political prisoners. Among them is Alexander Kozulin, a candidate in the fraudulent 2006 presidential elections.
It is time for the government of Belarus to respect the fundamental rights of its people, including freedom of speech, press and assembly. The United States will continue to shine the international spotlight on those responsible for human rights abuses, while extending a hand of friendship to the Belarusian people.