Friday

22nd Jan 2021

Belarus torture hastens calls for EU sanctions

  • Orban (l) in Minsk with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko. Picture taken early June 2020. (Photo: Viktor Orban)

Testimonies of torture against protestors in Belarus has emerged as EU states mull end-of-month sanctions following widespread presidential vote rigging.

Along with other NGOs, Amnesty International says it has collected testimonies of people who describe beatings and rape threats by a beefed-up Belarus state security.

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"Former detainees told us that detention centres have become torture chambers," said Amnesty International, in a statement.

"These are people whose only 'crime' was to take to the streets in peaceful protest," it said.

A video clip also recorded audible screams emanating from a detention centre in Minsk on Thursday.

Others have been paraded in front of state television and humiliated in moves that have laid bare a regime bent on retaining its almost three-decade grip on power.

At least two have died and some 6,000 are said to have been detained over the past week. Police have also used live ammunition against protestors.

Belarus' deputy interior minister has since pledged to release everyone as of early Friday morning, while thousands of emboldened women continue to stage protests throughout Minsk.

The pledge comes ahead of an emergency meeting among EU foreign ministers, who are set to discuss sanctions against the regime.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources, says the European Union will likely impose sanctions before the end of the month.

"We do not need another statement, we need action", said Lithuania's foreign minister Linas Linkevicius.

Hungary and Belarus

But sanctions also require the unanimity of all 27 member states. And Belarus may have found an ally with Hungary, its closest EU partner.

On Thursday, Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto suggested sanctions would be counter-productive.

"We are interested in EU decisions based on dialogue that do not make it impossible to build future relations between Belarus and the European Union, nor do they reject the Eastern Partnership program," he said.

The statement follows a June visit by Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban to Minsk, where he met with Belarus president's Alexander Lukashenko.

Orban has since demanded an end to all remaining EU sanctions.

The EU, in 2016, lifted most of its sanctions against Belarus, but prolonged an arms embargo and kept an asset freeze and travel ban on four people close to the regime.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland issued Minsk a conditional olive branch.

In a joint-statement, they demanded Belarus release all detained protestors, end the use of force against people, and initiate an immediate dialogue with them.

"Should Belarusian authorities meet these requirements, the doors for cooperation with international community should remain open," they said.

EU visa bans to 'pressure' Lukashenko

Belarus officials who ordered violence and faked elections are to face EU visas bans and asset freezes, foreign ministers agreed on Friday.

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