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Belarus Imprisons Marinich

The following is an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government:

The victory of democratic forces in Ukraine may prove worrisome for Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. He was elected president in a relatively clean election in 1994, but then moved to dismantle the democratic system to which he owed his victory. President Lukashenko illegally disbanded the elected parliament, extended his own term, and governed Belarus like a Soviet republic. As a result, the political opposition in Belarus has been ruthlessly suppressed.

A case in point is Mikhail Marinich, who gave up his government appointment to seek nomination as an opposition presidential candidate against President Lukashenko in 2001. In April, 2004, he was arrested. After eight months in detention, Mr. Marinich was convicted by a Belarusian court for allegedly stealing computers provided to his non-governmental organization by the U.S. embassy.

The court sentenced Mr. Marinich to five years in prison. "This process," he told the court, "is a politically driven prosecution brought about for my active work in civil society, for seeing Belarus developing along the European lines, for putting forward my candidacy in the presidential elections."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the charge of theft of U.S. computers "spurious." The U.S., he said, "condemns this abuse and earlier abuses of the judicial system by the Lukashenko regime to persecute Belarusian citizens for their political beliefs. The United States will consider measures it may take to hold accountable those Belarusian officials who participate in such abuses of democratic procedures and human rights."

In addition to removing potential political rivals, President Lukashenko has used fraudulent elections to strengthen his grip on power. In 2004, he conducted a referendum on the question of ending presidential term limits. Despite international criticism, and polling that showed that the regime failed to achieve the fifty percent of registered voters needed under the constitution, the regime announced that seventy-seven percent of registered voters favored ending presidential term limits. This made it possible for Lukashenko to stay in office indefinitely.

The success of the democratic movement in Ukraine has not been lost on the people of Belarus, who also long for freedom. As Irina Krasovskaya, leader of the human rights group "We Remember", said, "Ukraine has had a great impact on Belarus. It gives us hope for our victory."