Updated at 18:18,16-07-2018

US state secretary meets with Belarusian civil society delegation


United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a delegation of Belarusian civil society in Vilnius on December 6, reaffirming Washington's readiness to step up pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.

Ms. Clinton said that the United States and the European Union would fight Mr. Lukashenka's regime through sanctions and travel bans, Natallya Radzina, editor of opposition news site charter97.org who attended the meeting, told BelaPAN.

In attendance also were human rights defenders Valyantsin Stefanovich and Tatsyana Ravyaka; Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; Syarhey Matskevich, leader of the Assembly of Non-governmental Organizations; Zhanna Litvina, leader of the Belarusian Association of Journalists; and Hanna Herasimava, director of the Vilnius-based Belarusian Human Rights House.

Ms. Radzina, who was arrested and charged following a post-election protest in Minsk on December 19, 2010 and had to flee the country in late March to escape what she feared could be her second arrest, told the US state secretary about her ordeal and highlighted the plight of Belarus' political prisoners. She said that Washington must urge the European Union to introduce economic sanctions against Belarus.

"Fifteen political prisoners, including former presidential candidates Andrey Sannikaw and Mikalay Statkevich, remain in Belarusian prisons today," Ms. Radzina said, adding that the lives of Mr. Sannikaw and Zmitser Dashkevich, the imprisoned leader of an opposition youth group called Malady Front, were in danger. "They continue subjecting them to torture and mistreatment. Dzmitry Bandarenka, a coordinator of civil campaign European Belarus, may become disabled. He underwent complicated back surgery and walks on crutches in prison today," Ms. Radzina said.

She welcomed Washington's tough stance on Mr. Lukashenka's regime but stressed that the EU must also introduce economic sanctions targeting Belarus. In particular, she said, the 27-nation bloc must stop buying Belarusian petroleum products, which are a source of revenue used by Mr. Lukashenka to finance the country's repressive state apparatus.

"The EU and USA must have a common and strong stance. The USA must use all of its tools of influence to make the EU introduce real rather than token economic sanctions," Ms. Radzina said.