Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in a fraudulent election, receiving nearly 80 percent of the vote. He has been in power since 1994, making him the longest serving president in Europe.
The United States cannot accept as legitimate the results of the election. According to Geert Ahrens, head of the election observer team of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, the vote counting was "bad" or "very bad" at almost half of the polling stations OSCE observers visited. The United States regrets that limited progress in the political environment prior to the elections did not lead to a free and fair outcome or a transparent vote count.
When opposition candidates learned that ballots would be counted in secret, they called for mass demonstrations on Sunday December 19th. Some 10,000 people gathered in the capital of Minsk. More demonstrations followed on the 20th. Belarus authorities jailed about 600 demonstrators for up to two weeks in a crackdown on protests. Some detainees may face longer terms –- as much as 15 years –- if found guilty of taking part in "mass disturbances." At least seven presidential candidates were among those detained. Some of them were reportedly beaten by police. Two of the candidates were later released.
The United States strongly condemns the actions that the government of Belarus has taken to undermine the democratic process and use disproportionate force against political activists, civil society representatives and journalists, and the U.S. calls for the immediate release of all presidential candidates and the hundreds of protestors who were detained.
The U.S. is also concerned by indications that independent internet media have been disrupted and calls on the government of Belarus to take measures to protect its citizens’ right to free media. As clearly stated in the U.S.-Belarus Joint Statement of December 1st, the further development of relations is contingent upon the government of Belarus’s respect for human rights and the democratic process. The actions taken over the last several days, however, are a clear step backwards on issues central to America's relationship with Belarus.