UN rights expert condemns Belarusian Government for abuses ahead of elections

16 March 2006 – A United Nations expert has strongly condemned the escalation of human rights violations by the Belarusian Government against the independent press, opposition candidates and their supporters ahead of Sunday’s presidential election and called for the immediate release of all political opponents.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, expressed his “deepest concern” over the detention and beating of presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin, the imprisonment of Vincuk Viachorka, aide of presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich, and numerous cases of arrest, trial and ill-treatment of independent political activists.

In a statement released in Geneva, Mr. Severin also mentioned the persecution of Belarusian and foreign journalists, particularly those beaten and detained while trying to monitor Mr. Kazulin’s arrest, and the crackdown on independent newspapers, particularly Tovarishch, Narodnaya Volya, Deolvaya Gazeta and Zgoda.

The expert also urged the Belarusian Government to promptly stop its “campaign of aggression” against human rights defenders, particularly the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and its members.

The Committee, already the object of numerous acts of intimidation in the past months, has now been sentenced for tax evasion for having launched an election monitoring project financed by the European Union under a bilateral agreement explicitly granting tax exemption. Committee leaders are facing criminal charges that carry jail terms of five to seven years and confiscation of family property.

The Special Rapporteur called on the Government of Belarus to “immediately cease all actions aimed at intimidating opponents, journalists and human rights defenders and jeopardizing the free and fair running of the electoral campaign.”

He urged the Government of Belarus to “release immediately and unconditionally all political opponents, to bring all violations of freedom of expression and of the right of peaceful assembly to an immediate end, and to ensure that the elections are held in full compliance with international standards.”

Special Rapporteurs, who are unpaid and serve in a personal capacity, receive their mandates from the UN Commission on Human Rights.

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