Updated at 00:16,23-05-2018

Boycott Belarus, says Stoppard

The Sunday Times

Tom Stoppard has urged more businesses to follow RBS and pull out of trading in Belarus, known as "Europes last dictatorship".

The playwright Sir Tom Stoppard has urged businesses to pull out of "Europes last dictatorship after it emerged Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas had followed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in refusing to sell any more bonds issued by the state of Belarus.

RBS, 83%-owned by the taxpayer, was part of a consortium that sold $1.85billion (£1.14 billion) of Belarussian bonds. The former Soviet republic is ruled by Alexander Lukashenko, who has been widely criticised for human-rights abuses.

Stoppard said: "This is a lead others will follow and it's very welcome. The Belarussian economy has always been make or break for Lukashenko. We should not be in business with thuggishness".

The departure of the west European banks leaves only Russias Sberbank still dealing in the bonds.

Deutsche Bank pulled out last week after receiving a petition from families of political prisoners in Belarus and under pressure from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

The banks move followed action by Index on Censorship and Free Belarus Now, backed by Stoppard, Kevin Spacey and Sir Mick Jagger, to raise awareness of abuses in Belarus, particularly following the December 2010 election, when 600 opposition activists were jailed.

RBS stopped dealing with the Belarussian state in August, after a meeting in Edinburgh at which Natalia Koliada, a campaigner, told how she had been detained by guards who threatened to rape her.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: "Were delighted ... but questions must be raised as to how RBS, a bank part-owned by British taxpayers, got involved in funding a regime that tortures, kidnaps and murders".