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5th Mar 2024

Belarus: EU neighbour marks year of brutality

  • Women have played a prominent role in Belarus' biggest protests in the president's 30-year rule (Photo: Daria Buryakina for tut.by)

Europe has threatened further sanctions against Lukashenko after a year of intensifying brutality, which has begun to spill across the EU border.

"The EU stands ready to consider further measures in light of the [Belarusian] regime's blatant disregard of international commitments," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday (8 August), one year after yet-another rigged election by president Alexander Lukashenko prompted the biggest pro-democracy protests in his 30-year reign.

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  • Twelve months of killings, abductions, torture in EU neighbour (Photo: tut.by)

"Arbitrary and unfounded detentions, unjust persecutions, including denial of the right to a fair trial, and hundreds of documented cases of torture continue to take place," Borrell noted.

"Citizens from all sections of society have either died in unclear circumstances, been detained, or forced to leave the country and live in exile," he said.

The crackdown recently intensified, with a fresh wave of activists and journalists' arrests, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said.

"At a government meeting on 22 July, president Lukashenko unapologetically described the move to shut down dozens of civil society groups as 'a purge' - and that's what it is, a vicious large-scale mop-up operation," HRW's Tanya Lokshina said.

And over the past 12 months, some "35,000 peaceful protesters have been detained, there have been 4,691 documented criminal court cases, 608 political prisoners, and about 1,800 reports of torture," the International Federation for Human Rights, an civil-society umbrella group, and Viasna, a Belarusian NGO, said.

"The Polish community in Belarus has also become a target of this policy," Borrell said in Sunday's statement.

Meanwhile, Belarus' "instrumentalisation of vulnerable migrants", by baiting and pushing Arab asylum-seekers to Lithuania, and its "forced and unlawful landing" of a flight from Greece to Lithuania in May, showed it was becoming a danger to EU neighbours.

Vilnius, last weekend, announced a deal with Iraq to stop flights from Baghdad to Minsk for at least 10 days after some 4,000 mostly Iraqi irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus in recent weeks.

"I welcome the decision of Iraqi government to suspend all flights to Minsk. Only by working together can we dismantle networks of people-smuggling people to the EU," Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

But at the same time, Belarus opposition contacts sent EUobserver photos of suspected Belarus KGB intelligence-service officers taking videos and photos of Belarus-expat rallies in Warsaw, showing that the climate of fear was bleeding into the EU.

Europe has blacklisted Lukashenko and 165 other Belarusians and 15 Belarusian entities so far in response.

It has also imposed a flight ban on Belarus and trade restrictions on its banks, fertiliser, oil, and tobacco firms.

It stands ready to blacklist more of his oligarch henchmen and their family members if need be, EU sources told this website.

And the economic sanctions can be expanded to cover more categories of fertiliser and petroleum exports to tighten the screw in what the EU has called its "gradual approach" to the long-unfolding crisis.

Borrell said, on Sunday, sanctions could be reversed if Lukashenko released political prionsers and called free elections.

"The only way to end the political crisis is through an inclusive national dialogue," Borrell also said.

The last time the EU introduced a wave of Belarus sanctions was after rigged elections and regime violence in 2010.

It later dismantled them after Lukashenko freed his opponents, most of whom went into exile.

But this time around, there would be no quid pro quo if Lukashenko tried to use individual high-profile prisoners as "hostages" in EU sanctions talks, an EU source said.

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