Updated at 20:54,07-12-2016

USA Concerned about "Suppression" of Independent Media, Opposition Activists in Belarus

The United States is seriously concerned about "continued acts of suppression and intimidation aimed at independent media and political opposition figures in Belarus," Ian Kelly, US ambassador to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation, said when speaking at a meeting held by the OSCE Permanent Committee on Tuesday.

"After some notable improvements in late 2008, we regret that in the period since there has been a litany of continuing violations of OSCE commitments," Mr. Kelly said.

The US ambassador mentioned a recent attack on Artur Finkevich, leader of an opposition youth group called Maladaya (Young) Belarus, and his associate Alyaksandr Lykshyn who were assaulted by unknown assailants on July 8 shortly after leaving the US embassy in Minsk, and the Belarusian authorities’ warning to at least two Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists that they are "working illegally" in Belarus. "They allegedly exceed the Government`s quota on RFE/RL, a quota that violates Belarus`s OSCE commitments to allow for a pluralistic and free media in Belarus," Mr. Kelly said.

Among other events causing concern, Mr. Kelly mentioned a jail term handed to opposition activist Vital Kavalenka and his brother on July 9 to "prevent them from attending a festival which featured President Lukashenka at its opening ceremony;" the ban on the distribution of print runs of two independent newspapers, Volny Horad and Nasha Niva, last week; the detention of two leaders of the "unofficial" Union of Poles in Belarus while they were en route to a meeting with the EU commissioner for enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Stefan Fule; the interrogation of Natallya Radzina, coordinator of the Charter’97 news site and the confiscation of petitions intended to honor writer Vasil Bykaw by naming streets in Minsk and Hrodna after him.

"The GOB [government of Belarus] still has failed to remove Article 193 from its Criminal Code, which dictates jail time for any activity on behalf of unregistered public organization, including religious organizations, and thus legitimizes the state`s prosecution of activities by unregistered groups," the ambassador said. "These incidents are but a few of many that indicate a systematic increase in the suppression and intimidation of independent media and political opposition in Belarus."

"We continue to urge the Government of Belarus to review its laws regarding mass media, freedom of assembly and association, and political-party pluralism, as well as their implementation, to bring them into compliance with the OSCE commitments that Belarus freely adopted," he said. "In accordance with our OSCE commitments, we stand ready to work with the Government of Belarus in this endeavor."