US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton, the European Union`s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, issued a joint statement late on Sunday to remember "the one-year anniversary of the start of the brutal crackdown by the Belarus government on civil society, political opposition and independent media."
According to different estimates, between 20,000 and 50,000 people protested alleged election fraud in Minsk on the night of December 19, 2010. The demonstration ended with riot police’s violent crackdown on the protesting crowd in Independence Square. Some 700 people, including eight presidential candidates, were arrested.
"Over the past 12 months, the Belarusian authorities have imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, suppressed non-violent protests, and worked to silence independent voices," said Catherine Ashton and Hillary Clinton.
"There have also been credible reports of degrading and inhumane treatment of political prisoners," they said. "A number of them have been set free, but we reiterate our call for all political prisoners to be immediately released and rehabilitated, including presidential candidates Andrey Sannikaw and Mikalay Statkevich, and human rights defender Ales Byalyatski. We also express grave concern over new laws that will further restrict citizens` fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression and that target support to civil society."
Catherine Ashton and Hillary Clinton reiterated that the improvement of bilateral relations with the United States and the European Union was conditional on progress by the government of Belarus toward the fulfillment of its OSCE commitments and its respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. "The United States and the European Union remain willing to assist Belarus as it works to meet these obligations," they said.
A total of 44 people were convicted under the Criminal Code in connection with the December 19, 2010 protest. Twenty-eight of them were sentenced to prison terms, which ranged from three to six years.
Mr. Lukashenka pardoned nine of them on August 11, four others on September 1 and 11 more on September 14. Former presidential candidate Dzmitry Uss (Vus) was pardoned and released on October 1.
Former presidential candidates Andrey Sannikaw and Mikalay Statkevich, as well as Dzmitry Bandarenka, who was a campaign aide to Mr. Sannikaw, continue to be held in prison.