Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

France keeps close eye on Lukashenka

Natallia Radzina, the editor-in-chief of charter97.org website, paid a visit to Paris from October 14 till October 20 on invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France.

The journalist met with François Hollande's international relations adviser Romain Nadal, head of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of France Élisabeth Guigou, French MFA's Human Rights Ambassador François Zimeray, head of UNESCO's Department for Freedom of Expression and Media Development Sylvie Coudray, heads of the Foundation Chirac launched by former French president Jacques Chirac, head of the Belarusian-French friendship group Gerald Darmanin, heads of the departments for globalization, development, partnership and long-term forecasting, the mission on democratic issues of the French MFA and members of the National Assembly.

"It seems that France opens the issue of Belarus once again. After election of new French president François Hollande France seems to become interested in the events on the EU border. The main task was to inform French politicians about political prisoners, who are literally being killed in jails, about the atmosphere in the country after December 19, 2010 and the necessity to draw attention to the dictatorship in Europe that threatens not only Belarusians, who face brutal crackdown for any kind of dissent, but also poses a threat to the world by selling weapons to rogue states and terrorists and builds a nuclear plant on the EU border, which will allow Lukashenka to have radiological weapon. While the West demonstrates Lukashenka its weakness, the dictatorship badly influences the political climate in neighbouring Ukraine and Russia, whose presidents use Lukashenka's methods and manipulation tools. Belarus is Europe's last dictatorship, but it is also its disgrace," Natallia Radzina said.

Insufficient effectiveness of the sanctions against the Belarusian dictatorship extended by the EU Council was discussed at meetings with French politicians, diplomats and public figures. Imposing new sanctions is necessary because visa restrictions alone don't have the proper effect on Belarusian officials, moreover some of them – interior minister Ihar Shunevich, head of the Central Election Commission Lidzia Yarmoshyna and newly appointed foreign minister Uladzimir Makei – managed to visit Lyon, Vienna and New York recently. Sanctions on only three pro-Lukashenka oligarchs are not enough. Most profitable companies were not covered by sanctions. Moreover, oligarchs began to bypass the imposed restrictions. The list of businessmen backing Lukashenka regime is much longer. Sanctions should be slapped on all of them.

Radzina thinks targeted economic sanctions, in particular an embargo on Belarusian oil products and potash fertilizers supplies, should be introduced against the regime. Petroleum products and potash are Belarus's main export items. This business is controlled strictly by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's family, his oligarchs, officials and secret services. By buying Belarusian oil products and potash the West alongside with Russia finances the dictatorial regime and its repressive machinery.

Romain Nadal, French president's adviser on international relations, showed his deep understanding of the situation in Belarus. The politician noted the new French government realised the need of slapping sanctions and a “hard talk” with the Lukashenka regime. According to him, France is going to apply its best efforts to support Belarusian freedom fighters.

The situation of political prisoners and torture of prisoners of conscience was discussed in details at a meeting with France's human rights ambassador François Zimeray. The human rights ambassador expressed his intention to visit Belarusian jails and meet with political prisoners and their families. He already sent the appropriate request to the Belarusian Embassy. François Zimeray, who is also a successful lawyer, agreed to join the initiative to work out an international mechanism to bring to responsibility the people responsible for political repression in Belarus.

The question of tough sanctions and cancelling the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk was discussed with head of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of France Élisabeth Guigou. Natallia Radzina marked that the European Parliament, the US Congress, the German Bundestag had already spoken against holding the event in dictatorial Belarus. She suggested the French Parliament should also propose this initiative.

At meetings with members of the National Assembly of France, the journalist talked about the repressive laws adopted by the Belarusian illegitimate "parliament" (on mass events, unregistered organizations, foreign aid, terrorism and extremism, KGB activity, defamation and insulting the president of Belarus, etc.) and spoke about killings of vice speakers of the last legitimate parliament of Belarus (the Supreme Council) – Henadz Karpenka and Viktar Hanchar. The journalist called on French MPs not to cooperate with Belarusian appointees of the authorities.

The charter97.org editor urged French politicians to apply more pressure on Lukashenka regime and start granting free visas for Belarusians. She thinks this step will help to change moods in Belarusian society, because most of Belarusians have never visited the EU.

The journalist drew attention of French politicians to the fact that spendings on Belarusian opposition should be controlled. Human rights organisations and independent media don't receive enough financing, though the EU says about the increased funding of the Belarusian opposition. Most EU's responses are spent on not very essential events (cultural projects, educational programmes, seminars and conferences), though primary support should be given to the organisations struggling for human rights.

The issue of repression and torture in jails was discussed during meetings with President of the International Federation for Human Rights Souhayr Belhassen, representatives of the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), Reporters without Borders, politologists, editors and journalists from AFP news agency, Le Mond and Le Figaro.

The French MFA also organised Natallia Radzina's visit to Brussels. The question of sanctions, free visas and support for democratic Belarus was raised at meeting in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.