The United States is deeply concerned about recent events in Belarus, including the decision of the Belarusian government to force Sweden to recall its entire diplomatic staff in Minsk.
Belarus has the most repressive regime in Europe. Under the rule Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belarus has consistently been out of step with its neighbors who rapidly instituted democratic and free-market reforms; out of line with international law due to consistent and gross violations of the human rights of its citizens; and it has never held an election seen as fair by international monitors.
In December 2010, Mr. Lukashenka claimed he was re-elected in yet another deeply flawed presidential election. The massive, non-violent protest that followed resulted in a brutal crackdown. Hundreds of people, including opposition political candidates who had run against Mr. Lukashenka, were arbitrarily detained, jailed, and physically abused. Since then, the Government of Belarus has continued to increase restrictions on civil society, free expression, and independent media across the country.
For its poor human rights record, Belarus has been sanctioned with travel bans and asset freezes by both the United States and the European Union.
It is therefore no surprise that the Lukashenka government took exception when Sweden’s Ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, met with opposition leaders and donated to a university books that contained materials about human rights. Belarus refused to extend accreditation for Ambassador Eriksson, stating that “his activities were aimed not at the strengthening of relations between Belarus and Sweden, but on their erosion.” Sweden subsequently expelled Belarusian diplomats, and Belarus retaliated by ordering Sweden to close its embassy by the end of August.
These actions, like the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador to Belarus in 2008, only serve to deepen Belarus’ self-isolation.
The United States stands with Sweden and our European partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic, and prosperous future. We again call on Belarus to immediately release and rehabilitate all political prisoners, and to put an end to the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition.