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THREE KEY OPPOSITION POLITICIANS SENTENCED TO FINES
NAVINY.BY Belarus News March 30, 2012 Three key opposition politicians who were arrested and taken off a Moscow-bound train by police early on March 28 were sentenced to fines on Thursday, BelaPAN said. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the "Spravedlivy Mir" (Just World) Belarusian Party of the Left; and Alyaksandr Atroshchankaw, a member of European Belarus, had planned to travel from Moscow to Brussels for meetings with European Commission representatives before they were arrested in Orsha on their way to the Russian capital. In a closed-door trial, Natallya Baytsova, a judge of the Orsha District Court, found the men guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced them to a fine of 350,000 rubels each. As Mr. Atroshchankaw told BelaPAN, the politicians were accused of using obscene language, a charge routinely used by authorities to jail political opponents. "We were arrested on a far-fetched pretext," he said. "We were held in a detention center for nearly two days. This is obviously connected with our plans to travel to Brussels and speak to reporters in Moscow. They have foiled our trip." Mr. Atroshchankaw condemned the trial as a "disgrace" for law enforcement agencies. "The witnesses could not say how and where we uttered obscenities. They said that I had been swinging my arms in the train," he said. Mr. Atroshchankaw had his request to be represented by a lawyer rejected by the judge. The politicians, who had been held in custody since the arrest, were released in the courtroom. Messrs. Kalyakin and Lyabedzka are known to be among a dozen politicians, human rights defenders and journalists who were placed by the Belarusian authorities on a foreign travel ban list earlier this month after the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on more citizens of Belarus. Mr. Atroshchankaw, a former political prisoner, is likely to be under the ban as well. In an interview with a Russian TV channel last week, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that some opposition figures were under a travel ban because they instigated the West to use sanctions against Belarus. He warned that more names would be added to the travel ban list.
BELARUS: ADMINISTRATIVE CONVICTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER MR. VALERY SHCHUKIN
Front Line Defenders April 2, 2012 On 30 March 2012, Mr Valery Shchukin was condemned to an administrative fine in relation to a protest held on the previous day against the trial of political activists, which was about to take place behind closed doors in Orsha. Following his protest, Valery Shchukin was detained and put in pre-trial detention before being charged. Valery Shchukin is a 70-year-old human rights defender based in Vitsebsk who is particularly active in defending political and civil rights. Orsha city court fined Valery Shchukin 140,000 Belarusian rubles (approximately 13 euro) for disorderly conduct under Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus, and 1,050,000 BLR (approximately 99 euro) for disobeying a police officer under Article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offences. On 29 March 2012, Valery Shchukin together with other observers were refused entry to the court room in Orsha where the hearing of three political activists was about to take place. In protest against the hearing being held behind closed doors, Valery Shchukin laid on the floor blocking the entry to the third floor of the building. The court hearing was that of Aliaksandr Atroshchankaù, an activist of the civil campaign 'European Belarus', Anatol Liabedzka, head of United Civil Party, and Siargey Kaliakin, head of 'Fair world' political party. On the night of 27 March 2012, the three men were arrested on a train traveling from Minsk to Moscow allegedly on suspicion of drug trafficking. They were subsequently charged with 'disorderly conduct' under Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences. It is believed that the reason for their detention was to prevent them from traveling to Brussels where they had planned meetings with representatives of the European Commission. The incident is reportedly linked to the European Union's policy of strengthening the sanctions against the Belarusian regime. As a response to this policy, the Belarusian authorities have imposed a travel ban on a number of oppositional activists, journalists and human rights defenders.
BELARUS ARRESTS 3 LEADING OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS
ABC News March 28, 2012 Belarus arrested three top opposition figures Wednesday who were on their way to Brussels to meet with European Union officials, a move certain to further fuel tensions with the bloc. The 27-nation EU already has imposed sanctions on authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's regime over its crackdown on dissent and recalled its ambassadors from the ex-Soviet nation, which is wedged between Russia and Poland. Those arrested were Anatoly Lebedko, the head of Belarus' largest opposition United Civil Party; Sergei Kalyakin, the leader of the Fair World leftist party; and Alexander Otroshchenkov, a leading activist of the European Belarus group. They were detained on a train as they were heading to Moscow to fly to Brussels and have been put in police custody on charges of hooliganism pending a trial Thursday. "It looked like some wild special operation: plainclothed people broke into our compartment and took us off the train by force," Lebedko told The Associated Press by phone before police took his cell away. "We have become hostages of Lukashenko." Russia is the main sponsor and ally of Lukashenko's regime, and citizens of the two nations travel freely across the border. Earlier this month, Lukashenko's government started barring the regime's critics from foreign trips. The victims of the ban would only learn about it once they were already at the airport. Officials have refused to comment on reports that the government has compiled a list of journalists, opposition activists and human rights defenders forbidden to leave the nation of 10 million. Lebedko has protested the ban in court, which hasn't yet delivered its ruling. Lukashenko, who has been dubbed Europe's last dictator by critics, has been in office since 1994. He has relentlessly stifled dissent and independent media and was re-elected in a 2010 vote that Western countries and monitors called deeply flawed. Belarusian rights activists say 12 opposition activists, including two former presidential candidates, are in prison on political charges.
New York Times April 5, 2012 Belarus is a former Soviet republic. Bordered by European Union countries on one side and Russia on the other, it lies at the crossroads of world views, torn between a desire for the freedoms and prosperity of the West and the authoritarian traditions of its larger neighbor to the east. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, president since 1994, has been called Europe’s last dictator. In December 2010, he was re-elected with what government officials said was about 80 percent of the vote. That month, thousands of protesters filled a large square in the center of Minsk, incensed over Mr. Lukashenko’s claim of a sweeping victory in elections that independent observers deemed a farce. The police violently broke up the rally, which had been largely peaceful, arresting more than 600 people. Within 24 hours, seven of the nine opposition candidates for president had been arrested, and the police spent weeks rounding up people across the country for even the most tangential affiliation with the opposition. The election’s outcome was a blow not only to Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents but to the European Union, which had hoped that it was helping to inch Belarus toward a less-repressive state. The E.U. adopted sanctions meant to punish Mr. Lukashenko; it was followed by the United States. In April 2011, a bomb ripped through a subway station next to Mr. Lukashenko’s office, killing 12 people, wounding 150 and worsening an already tense political situation. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion in the capital. Two days later, Mr. Lukashenko announced that the security services had caught the perpetrators, saying that two suspects had confessed to the crime. But he provided few if any details of the investigation, nor did he identify the suspects or offer a clue as to their motives, deepening the mystery surrounding the attack. Since then, opposition activists and independent journalists have been frequently harassed and arrested in the country, according to human rights groups. In addition, Belarus has been reeling from its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and there have been increasingly desperate calls from within the country for reform. This has left Belarus isolated and almost completely dependent on economic assistance from Russia, its longtime patron.
Fraught Relations With the West Diplomatic rancor flared anew in winter 2012 between Belarus and the European Union. On Feb. 28, the E.U. imposed new sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze for 21 Belarussian officials “responsible for the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition,” a statement from the union said. They were imposed on top of the sanctions that followed the December 2010 presidential election. In response to the European move, Belarus asked the E.U.’s envoy in Minsk and the Polish ambassador to Belarus to return to their capitals for consultations. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, countered by requesting the recall from Minsk of all 27 member nations’ ambassadors “in an expression of solidarity and unity.” The 27 embassies were left in the hands of chargés d’affaires, diplomats who are a rung below ambassadors in rank. Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s prime minister, said that he was “sorry” about the dispute, but that it would not affect Russia’s relations with Belarus. Apparently in response to the sanctions, in March, the government of Belarus started barring opponents of President Lukashenko from leaving the country. At least 10 journalists, opposition political figures and human rights workers were either prevented from crossing the country’s border with the E.U. or informed that they were no longer permitted to leave Belarus. Until that point, the authorities in Belarus seemed more than happy to allow government opponents to leave rather than have them continue to inflame opinion within the country.
COUNCIL REINFORCES RESTRICTIVE MEASURES AGAINST BELARUSIAN REGIME
Council of the European Union March 23, 2012 Against the background of the further deterioration of the situation in Belarus, the Council today strengthened restrictive measures against those responsible for the repression of civil society in that country. The Council added 12 persons to the list of those targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze. They include individuals benefiting from and supporting the regime as well as persons responsible for the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition in Belarus. In addition, the Council froze the assets of 29 entities, which are controlled by persons subject to restrictive measures due to their role in supporting the regime. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said: "Our decision today comes in response to the negative developments we have seen in Belarus. The situation is getting worse and the authorities are tightening their grip on civil society. Instead of increasing repression, Belarus must release and rehabilitate all political prisoners and roll back its repressive policies." Today's decisions come in addition to already existing measures: more than 200 individuals are already subject to a travel ban and a freeze of their assets within the EU. Moreover, the assets of three companies linked to the regime are already frozen while exports to Belarus of arms and material for internal repression are prohibited. The legal acts, including the list of additional designations, will be published in the EU Official Journal of 24 March.
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