Updated at 16:42,06-12-2016

US state secretary calls for release of political prisoners in Belarus

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has once again called on the Belarusian authorities to release the political prisoners.

"In Belarus, the government continues to systematically repress human rights, so we must continue to push for the release of political prisoners and support those brave activists standing up for the rights of the people of Belarus," she said while speaking at a meeting hosted by Brookings Institution on Friday.

Ms. Clinton sharply criticized Ukraine's October parliamentary elections and expressed concern about selective prosecution of opposition leaders there and. She praised October's parliamentary elections in Georgia and the peaceful transition of power there.

In an interview given to Reuters on November 26, Alyaksandr Lukashenka denied the existence of political prisoners in Belarus.

"Come and point to at least one political prisoner," he said. "Point to at least one person who has been convicted illegally by us and we will show you our materials. And I will ask you how you would treat these people in accordance with your democratic laws in Great Britain, Germany, other countries."

Mr. Lukashenka defended the crackdown on leading opposition politicians that followed the December 19, 2010 post-election street protest. "If there's an illegal protest and a group of people bursts into the House of Government, breaks the doors, what is that?" he said. "In your countries shots would be fired. In our country neither tear gas, nor water cannons were applied."

Mr. Lukashenka claimed that riot police have never used tear gas, water cannons or rubber bullets during his rule.

He noted that most of the imprisoned post-election protesters had already been released. "I decided to pardon all those who had appealed to me [for a pardon], although they are guilty," he said.

"One or two did not appeal [to me for a pardon]. They say that it's better for them to be in prison, then they will be heroes. Good, stay in prison."

According to Belarusian human rights defenders, there are 12 political prisoners in Belarus at present, including former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich, Ales Byalyatski, chairman of a human rights group called Vyasna (Spring), and Paval Sevyarynets, co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party.