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BELARUS: EU restrictive measures

BELARUS: Restrictive measures following the 2020 Belarus presidential elections

Forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021. See Vladimir Weissman’s video report here

 

EU Council (25.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3cim0SK – On 24 May 2021, the European Council strongly condemned the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, endangering aviation safety, as well as the detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

 

The European Council:

 

  • demanded the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega
  • called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate this incident
  • invited the Council to adopt relevant sanctions concerning persons and entities as soon as possible
  • called on the Council to adopt further targeted economic sanctions and invited the High Representative and the Commission to submit proposals without delay
  • called on all EU-based carriers to avoid overflight of Belarus
  • called on the Council to adopt measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines
  • stood in solidarity with Latvia following the unjustified expulsion of Latvian diplomats

 

 

Restrictive measures against Belarus

 

Since October 2020, the EU has progressively imposed restrictive measures against Belarus.

 

The measures were adopted in response to the Belarusian authorities’ unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions, following the August 2020 presidential elections.

 

The EU does not recognise results of the Belarus elections, condemning them as neither free, nor fair.

 

 

Who are the sanctions targeting?

 

A total of 88 individuals and 7 entities are now designated under the sanctions regime on Belarus.

 

The targeted individuals have been identified as responsible for repression and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists in the wake of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, as well as for misconduct of the electoral process.

 

In the context of the crackdown by Belarusian authorities, a first round of sanctions was imposed by the Council against 40 individuals on 1 October 2020.

 

A second set of sanctions targeting President, Alexandr Lukashenko and 14 other officials, including his son and National Security Adviser, Viktor Lukashenko, was imposed on 6 November 2020.

 

A third set round of sanctions focusing on high level Belarusian officials was adopted on 17 December 2020, adding another 36 individuals to the list.

 

Designated persons, among others, include key figures of the political leadership and of the government, senior officials of the Ministry of the Interior and its troops, the Chair of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, the Prosecutor General, several judges, the Chairman of the National State Television and Radio Company, and several prominent economic actors.

 

 

What are the sanctions?

 

The restrictive measures include a travel ban and an asset freeze.

 

  • the travel ban : impedes those listed from entering or transiting through EU territories,
  • the asset freeze : is used against the funds or economic resources of the listed persons.

 

In addition, EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to the listed individuals and entities.

 

Image from protests in Belarus, following the August 2020 presidential elections.

Protestants in Minsk, Belarus

 

 

Why sanctions?

 

The purpose of these sanctions is to pressure the Belarusian political leadership to prevent further violence and repression, to release all political prisoners and other unjustly detained people, and to initiate a genuine and inclusive national dialogue with broader society.

 

The EU stands ready to support a peaceful democratic transition with a variety of instruments, including a comprehensive plan of economic support for a democratic Belarus. The EU also stands ready to adopt further sanctions, including on other economic actors, if the situation in Belarus does not improve.

 

 

Background information

 

On 9 August, presidential elections took place in the Republic of Belarus. Credible reports from domestic observers show that the process did not meet the international standards expected of a participating state of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Following protests, state authorities deployed disproportionate violence causing at least two deaths and many injuries.

 

EU heads of state and government first met by video conference to discuss the situation in Belarus on 19 August. The conclusions by President Charles Michel following the video conference affirm that the EU does not recognise the election results presented by the Belarus authorities. EU leaders condemned the violence against peaceful protesters and expressed solidarity with the people of Belarus. Leaders agreed on imposing sanctions on the individuals responsible for violence, repression, and election fraud.

 

EU foreign ministers held a video conference on 14 August on Belarus. They agreed on the need to sanction those responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results. They called on the Belarusian authorities to stop the disproportionate and unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters and to release those detained.

 

On 1 October 2020, The European Council condemned the Belarusian authorities’ unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters, intimidation and arbitrary arrests and detentions following the presidential elections, the results of which it does not recognise.

 

EU leaders also EU called on the Belarusian authorities to end violence and repression, release all detainees and political prisoners, respect media freedom and civil society, and start an inclusive national dialogue.

 

They agreed that restrictive measures should be imposed and called on the Council to adopt the decision without delay. The European Council also encouraged the European Commission to prepare a plan of economic support for democratic Belarus.

 

Photo credits: Council of the European Union





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BELARUS: How rich is Lukashenko? See video

Navalny revealed Putin’s Palace video.
A small group of talented and unafraid young people from the independent media “NEXTA” did the same with Lukashenko in Belarus. Watch it here.
Lukashenko is not exactly poor and his lifestyle is not that of a monk. Courageous people from NEXTA working from a safe place in Poland reveal the hidden face of Belarus’ dictator in a 29-minute documentary in an exceptional documentary that you can watch here. You will see how he accumulated his wealth which he robbed from his people.
The original documentary was long and in Russian. The version you will watch has been shortened and completed with English subtitles by Vladimir Weissman. You can watch other videos about Belarus on his YouTube channel.
A webinar on Belarus on 20 May
On Thursday 20 May, from 14:30 until 16:00 CET, IPHR, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Global Diligence LLP and Truth Hounds are hosting an event on the situation in Belarus and the role of the ICC in the fight for justice and accountability in the country.
Please join in and feel free to pass on this invite to whomever you think might be interested. The event requires registration, here is a link: https://forms.gle/LnL2rjA2zP6RGNrF6




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BELARUS: Church building seized, religious freedom remains under attack

By Margaret Colson

Tab Media (25.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3rac96L – Government authorities in Minsk, Belarus, on Feb. 17 seized the building of New Life Church, the largest and most influential evangelical church in the country of about 10 million.

The seizure of the church building was described by Bishop Leonid Voronenko of the Full Gospel Church in Belarus as a “perverse situation when those who do good suffer, but it is the reality we are experiencing.”

Police ordered the approximate 70 believers, praying in the church at the time, to vacate the building under threat of arrest.

New Life Church, undeterred by the loss of its building, a renovated cow shed, has been holding recent worship services outdoors in its parking lot.

Pastor Viacheslav Goncharenko posted a statement on the church’s Facebook page on Feb. 19 in response to the government’s actions.

‘A SERIOUS MOMENT’

Calling the situation a “serious moment” in the church’s life, Goncharenko said church members need to adapt to “new realities.”

“We are in fasting and praying for our church that God speaks His word and intervenes in this situation. He is our Deputy.”

Tensions have flared in the post-Soviet country since the August 2020 re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled for the past 26 years and is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator.” Election results have been disputed, leading to widespread protests and alleged police brutality. Belarusian security forces arbitrarily detained thousands of people and systematically subjected hundreds to torture and abuse in the days following the 2020 presidential election, Human Rights Watch reported. Screams of tortured detainees could be heard in the streets outside, Amnesty International added.

Evident by the seizure of the New Life building, churches and church leaders are not immune to such mistreatment from government authorities. New Life Church “is known for its active public positions, including prayer events related to high profile social and political events,” said Michael Cherenkov, executive field director for Mission Eurasia. It’s a reputation that has been met with governmental reprisals, both in earlier years and now.

In a TAB Media Special Report, Cherenkov told TAB Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Davis Rash, that the confiscation of the church building is a “small part of a bigger picture of what’s going in Belarus” in terms of religious pressure and persecution.

The majority of Belarusians identify as Christian. Of the country’s roughly 10 million residents, 73 percent are Orthodox and 12 percent are Catholic, according to Pew Research Center data. Lukashenko describes himself as an “Orthodox atheist.”

‘INFLUENTIAL MINORITY’

Though the evangelical community is tiny, it is an “influential minority,” Cherenkov said.

Such influence means that evangelical churches are often seen as “enemies of the state,” said Cherenkov. The president of Belarus “sent this clear message to any evangelical church. ‘Don’t get involved because you will be punished; you will face serious consequences for your prophetic stance, your prophetic voice and your support for this protest movement.’”

Cherenkov said Lukashenko considers churches in his country “rebellious” and the government is sending a message: “I am watching over you.”

That’s quite literally true. A 2003 International Religious Freedom Report by the U.S. State Department said that while the Belarus Constitution provides for freedom of religion, that right is restricted in practice. That report noted the harassment of churches not affiliated with the Belarusian Orthodox Church, a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church and the only recognized Orthodox denomination in the country.

A law passed in 2002 requires churches to register and seek permission from government authorities for religious activities. The government repeatedly rejects registration of Protestant churches and other non-Orthodox denominations.

Without registration, many churches find it difficult, if not impossible, to rent or purchase property to conduct religious services. And many churches reject registration altogether based on religious freedom principles.

According to New Life Church’s website, the church was registered Dec. 22, 1992, by the Minsk City Executive Committee.

NOT JUST EVANGELICALS

Catholic churches and leaders in Belarus have also endured political pressure and persecution in recent months.

On Aug. 15 “Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said, ‘People have the right to know the truth’ [about election results],” Cherenkov said. Two weeks later, on Aug. 31, “Lukashenko punished him” as the border patrol denied the Catholic leader, a Belarus citizen, return entry into his homeland from Poland. “They punished him immediately and sent a very clear message to evangelical and orthodox people as well,” Cherenkov said.

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk posted a statement Feb. 22 denouncing the government’s crackdown on churches.

The statement calls on Belarus “to protect religious freedom and uphold the right of all faiths to practice freely.”

“We are concerned by the eviction of the New Life Church and recent pressure against religious clergy and laymen who exercise their fundamental freedoms. Belarus as a member of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) has agreed to protect all human rights and we urge authorities to stay true to their commitments,” the statement reads.

Cherenkov’s perspectives on religious persecution in Belarus are shared by many.

“It’s obvious they [government authorities] are trying to pressure the Church, which means the Church is being persecuted. Although no one speaks openly about it, nor did they when persecution was severe during the Soviet-era struggle against faith and Church. The facts show the situation is now similar,” said Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, vicar-general and auxiliary of Belarus’s Minsk-Mogilev diocese, in an interview last September with The Tablet, an international Catholic news weekly.

Amid the political pressure and persecution, “God’s church … is the most powerful vehicle; it is the most powerful channel. People are hoping that the evangelical or Catholic church could be the agent of hope,” Cherenkov said.

REMEMBER THE PAST

Evangelicals, he said, are urging Belarus citizens not to forget past incidents of government atrocities. Christians were among those who participated in the Aug. 15 “chain of repentance,” stretching 15 kilometers from Kurapaty, where the Soviet inflicted atrocities on Belarusians, to Akrescina, a detention center infamous for holding political prisoners. Many who participated in the chain of repentance were holding Bibles or crosses.

“If you forget, it will repeat. …  So now they steal your voice; tomorrow they steal your freedom. Remember that; pray about that,” Cherenkov said.

In addition to urging Belarusians to remember past atrocities, Christian leaders in Belarus are pleading for prayer from the global community of believers.

“New Life Church is now paying a high price for being faithful. In this context, I ask your prayer support. Pray not just for New Life Church, but pray for all evangelical and for the Catholic and orthodox church,” said Cherenkov, who has family in Belarus.

“Pray specifically for bravery; they (Christians and church leaders) need it,” he said. Pray also for creativity, he urged. “In this context of extremely limited freedom, our people have to be creative in how to reach people — how to reach out to even their persecutors to tell them about Christ, about forgiveness, about grace, about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have to be brave and creative.”

Such prayers, he believes, can lead to “spiritual, economic, political and cultural transformation” in Belarus.

“Let us be strong, united, brave and creative. Please pray about that.”

Listen to the Cherenkov interview in its entirety below.

Photo: from New Life Church website





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Call to the EU: “Assist Belarusians Seeking Democracy and Human Rights. Do more”

  • Reform movement facing crushing regime violence
  • THE EU AND ITS MEMBER STATES NEED TO DO MORE, The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers say.
  • Other NGOs requested to join their call to the EU. Send an email to secretariat.brussels@hrwf.org with the sentence

”BELARUS: THE EU AND ITS MEMBER STATES NEED TO DO MORE, I SUPPORT”

 

FOREF/ HRWF (20.11.2020) – Two international human rights organizations appealed to authorities in the European Union and the United States to assist the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, which they said was being “subjected to increasingly harsh brutality by the dictatorial regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.”

 

“The citizens and leaders of democracies cannot allow security, police and prison officials of a European country to ruthlessly detain, torture and even beat to death peaceful demonstrators who want nothing more than the internationally-guaranteed right to a free and fair election,” wrote the Forum for Religious Freedom–Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers.

 

“They must do whatever it takes to convince Lukashenka, and those who support him from abroad, to listen to and respect the Belarusian people’s demand to embark on needed political reforms, starting with a new, honest election.”

 

Since protests began in August, massive numbers of Belarusians from all walks of life have been arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, jailed or fined.

 

The OMON, or Special Purpose Police Force under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, assisted by police troops and even civilian regime employees have become more and more savage. Eventually, six young men have been killed, of whom at least two were beaten to death in the street or right outside their homes. It is believed that Lukashenka himself gave strict orders to use all means necessary to make the protests stop, thus sanctioning unrestricted violence.

 

According to the Viasna Human Rights Center, an independent monitoring group  (http://spring96.org/en), as of 15 November, 25,800 persons had been detained; on 15 November alone, 1,127 persons were detained. Approximately 24,000 of those detained had been sentenced to short prison terms (»administrative arrests«) for up to 15 days and/or fined. The state has initiated approximately 900 criminal cases against protestors. Hundreds have already been tried and sentenced to years in prison.

 

More than four thousand (4,000) complaints about torture and other grave abuses by the police and prison staff have been filed. Not one was investigated. Lukashenka told the country’s prosecutors on 9 September that, in times like these, “We don’t care about the law.” (https://nashaniva.by/?c=ar&i=258800&lang=ru)

 

But as violence against peaceful demonstrators has increased, international attention has decreased, a vector that serves repression not only in Belarus, but in other autocratic lands as well.  With the integrity of democracies, and indeed democracy itself on the line, robust support for the reform movement is of utmost urgency. While Lithuania and Poland strongly support the Belarusan movement against the dictatorship, Western governments and the EU need to do more.

 

 

Background:  One Stolen Election Too Far

 

For 26 years, Belarus (population: 9.8 million) has been ruled with an iron fist by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has kept many Soviet institutions (including the KGB) and an essentially Soviet economic system in place. For many years Belarus has had no forceful opposition, since those who could have threatened the president’s position have disappeared or been forced into exile in the late 1990s.

 

The country has been able to survive economically by maintaining strong ties with Russia, which has in effect subsidized Belarus’ economy and thus kept the president in power.

 

Elected in 1994, former state farm manager Lukashenka held a referendum in 1995, after which Soviet symbols were resurrected; Belarus is the only post-Soviet state that has kept the former Soviet flag and coat of arms. The referendum also effectively ensured that the national language, as during Soviet times, retained an inferior status vis-a-vis Russian.

 

In 1996, Lukashenka held a second, fraudulent referendum, which gave him literally unlimited, powers. Every official in government, the health system, the education and cultural institutions, in industry, military, police, and even the courts is appointed by Lukashenka, making him a bona-fide dictator. He openly refers to himself as the people’s »Daddy,« to whom all are indebted.  Lukashenka has built up a large security apparatus to repress freedom and change. The police, especially the riot police (OMON) and the internal security forces (the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior) are very large in size and also armed and equipped as if the country were facing an imminent danger of a major civil war.

 

Lukashenka was reelected five times, each time claiming a larger percentage of the electorate than the previous one. In the run-up to the election on 9 August 2020, as expected, all potential serious competitors were sentenced to lengthy jail terms.  But then these candidates’ wives registered themselves as candidates, a strategy not seen as a serious threat to Lukashenka’s continued rule, because the candidates were women.

 

In the event, the opposition rallied behind one candidate, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya. The day following the election, the Central Electoral Commission announced that Lukashenka had won with 80 percent of the votes, a Soviet-like margin, which only reinforced the conviction of a majority that fair elections, and democracy itself, do not exist in Belarus.

 

Hundreds of thousands of voters, assisted by the »Golos« (Vote) website (https://belarus2020.org/home), which was able to produce statistically significant data, immediately reacted; large crowds, most of them women, took to the streets to protest this gross injustice, demanding Lukashenka’s resignation, as well as fresh, honest elections.

 

Since that time, marches of similar size have shaken the capital city of Miensk. They have been mirrored in all towns and even villages. The largest protest march was on 23 August with approximately 250,000 people taking part (www.DW.com).  Almost the same number was again achieved on 25 October (www.RFERL.org ), the day after the president-elect, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya, presented the regime with an ultimatum to leave or face countrywide strikes and civil disobedience.

 

Numerous workers at large and small government owned industries went on strike, in spite of threats of dismissal and even criminal charges. These strikes, and also »work slow« or »work by the rules« actions, present a real danger to the regime, given its chronic economic weaknesses.

 

Unprecedented are the marches of senior citizens, with tens of thousands of participants, the marches of grandmothers, and those of women and girls. The latter, in order to avoid being beaten or detained, began walking in small numbers carrying flowers rather than traditional white-red-white flags or dresses in those colors.

 

Also remarkable were the marches of disabled persons and their caregivers. Disabled people (e.g. in wheelchairs) are a rare sight in Belarusan streets, but now they, too, wanted to do express their desire to live in a free society.

 

The OMON arrested hundreds of participants at the large Sunday marches, and kept them in police lockups and pre-trial detention facilities (SIZO). The first wave of prisoners were tortured and kept in inhuman conditions. They were beaten with batons and kicked with heavy boots, insulted and humiliated. They were kept in cells overfilled to 4-8 times their regular capacity, and denied drinking water and sanitary facilities. Their families were denied information about their whereabouts.

 

One of the most famous cases was that of a woman basketball player, Yelena Leuchanka. She was eventually released and described the conditions in the prison: 19 women in a six-cot cell were deprived of matrasses. The sewage was cut off. She had a chance to meet the warden and asked what the reason was for making the lives of the detainees miserable, and who had given that order. The  warden replied that he had given the order himself, to make sure that the detainees for the future refrain from actions that would send them back to prison. (https://charter97.org/ru/news/2020/10/31/399039/)

 

Yet, the huge marches have continued unabated, while the number of arrests and detentions has increased. There were more and more »security« forces deployed in the streets. Most of them wear black SWAT uniforms with no identification marks. All wear balaclavas to mask their identity. Eventually, water canons, some with orange-colored water,  were employed. Scores of overfilled police busses took those arrested to the detention facilities, in which conditions have gradually worsened. Hundreds of relatives stood for hours on end in lines at the prison gate to give food and essential hygiene wares to their jailed loved ones.

 

All categories of citizens have protested in the streets. Many of those who held important functions in society like physicians, university professors, lawyers, journalists, musicians, and top athletes were detained. Their sin: having taken part in an »unauthorized mass event« or »carrying unauthorized symbols« (meaning the traditional white-red-white flag). Some have been even arrested for gathering in their court yards to listen to music and sing and dance.

 

For more information:

 

Dr. Aaron Rhodes, President, FOREF – aaronarhodes@gmail.com

Mr Peter Zoehrer, Executive Director, FOREF – office@foref-europe.org, Phone: +43 (0)6645238794

Mr. Willy Fautre, Director, HRWF – w.fautre@hrwf.org





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2020 Sakharov Prize awarded to the democratic opposition in Belarus

EU Reporter (24.10.2020) – The democratic opposition in Belarus has been awarded the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. European Parliament President David Sassoli announced the laureates in the Brussels plenary chamber at noon today (22 October), following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (president and political group leaders).

 

“Let me congratulate the representatives of the Belarusian opposition for their courage, resilience and determination. They have stood and still stay strong in the face of a much stronger adversary. But they have on their side something that brute force can never defeat – and this is the truth. So my message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side,” President Sassoli said, following the decision.

“I would also like to add a word on the recent killing of one of this year’s finalists, Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo, part of the Guapinol environmental group. The group is opposing an iron oxide mine in Honduras. It is imperative that a credible, independent and immediate investigation is launched into this case and those responsible must be held to account,” he added.

Protesting against a brutal regime

 

The democratic opposition in Belarus is represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women, as well as prominent political and civil society figures. Read more about the laureates, as well as the other finalists here.

 

Belarus has been in the midst of a political crisis since the disputed presidential elections on 9 August, which led to an uprising against authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and a subsequent brutal crackdown on demonstrators by the regime.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held on 16 December.

On Wednesday (21 October), Parliament also adopted new recommendations calling for a comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Belarus. Read more here.

 

Background

 

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is €50,000.

 

Last year, the prize was given to Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur economist fighting for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority.

Photo: Democratic forces in Belarus have been protesting the brutal regime since August

More information

 


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