The authoritarian government of Belarus continues to crack down hard on political opposition members, dissidents, and independent journalists. Of particular concern is the condition of political prisoners in the country.
U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ian Kelly, noted that additional charges recently brought against the leader of the youth opposition movement Young Front, Zmitser Dashkevich, could extend his politically-motivated imprisonment one year or more past his scheduled release this December. Moreover, it is appalling that former political prisoner Vasil Parfiankov again faces politically-motivated charges and imprisonment.
The U.S. remains very concerned about travel restrictions on members of the democratic opposition, human rights activists and members of independent media in Belarus. Several individuals have been removed from the list of those banned to travel outside the country. However, there are worrisome reports that human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, has been placed on a KGB list prohibiting his departure from Belarus. Under international law, Belarus is obligated to respect the right of its citizens to leave their country and return to it.
On July 24th, the Minsk City court rejected an appeal of a new six-month sentence against “Tell the Truth” campaign activist and political prisoner Vasil Parfyankou. He was sentenced in May for violating the terms of his 2011 release. Parfyankou, who was originally convicted for participating in so-called mass disturbances following December 2010 elections, was sentenced to four years imprisonment, but was granted early pardon in August 2011. These trials were clearly politically motivated.
Anton Surapin, the head of a news website, was arrested during a raid on his home on July 13th by members of the KGB investigating his role in a publicity stunt by a Swedish advertising agency designed to promote free expression. Realtor Sergei Basharimov, who allegedly planned to rent an apartment to the Swedish firm, was also detained at the time. Under Belarusian law, suspects can be held for up to 10 days in police custody without being formally charged. The United States has requested that Belarusian government provide more information on those cases to the OSCE.
The United States again calls on Belarus to release all political prisoners immediately, to restore their full political rights, and to stop the ongoing harassment of the democratic opposition, civil society, and human rights activists and their families.