This article was originally published Sept. 15, 2020, on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A bipartisan group of 13 U.S. senators has introduced a resolution calling for targeted sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for a crackdown on peaceful protesters in the country.
U.S. Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a news release on September 14 that the continued violence and repression against the opposition in Belarus is “unconscionable.”
The resolution declares the August 9 election that gave President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office “neither free nor fair” and declares the results announced by the Central Election Commission invalid.
It also demands the release of all political prisoners and those detained for peacefully protesting, including those arrested before the election.
The sanctions would be carried out in coordination with the European Union and other international partners, according to the resolution, which Risch described as a strong symbol of the United States’ support for the people of Belarus and their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, free elections, and the rule of law.
Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) said he is “in awe of the courage shown by the people of Belarus.” He also called on the international community to stand in full support of their aspirations for a free and democratic future.
“Mr. Lukashenka does not have a shred of legitimacy left and must step down,” said Menendez, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The U.S. and our partners in Europe must move with urgency to hold him and his henchman accountable for crimes against the people of Belarus. Further delay only welcomes deeper entrenchment by the regime.”
The resolution says more than 7,000 Belarusian citizens have been detained by government authorities, mostly for taking part in or observing peaceful protests, with many of these arrests followed by beatings and torture at the hands of Belarusian law enforcement.
It also says authorities in Belarus have consistently restricted press freedom as part of the crackdown, including the arrest of dozens of journalists, six of whom report for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
In addition, more than 50 news websites that were covering the protests have been blocked, two independent newspapers have been kept from publishing, and the accreditation of journalists working for foreign news outlets have been stripped.
The move came as Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the UN Human Rights Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to “promptly open inquiries” into the postelection crackdown in Belarus.
Security forces “arbitrarily detained thousands of people and systematically subjected hundreds to torture and other ill- treatment” in the days following the August 9 election, the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on September 15.
HRW said it interviewed former detainees who described “beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and in at least one case, rape. They had serious injuries, including broken bones, cracked teeth, skin wounds, electrical burns, and mild traumatic brain injuries. Some had kidney damage.”
“The sweeping brutality of the crackdown shows the lengths to which the Belarusian authorities will go to silence people, but tens of thousands of peaceful protesters continue to demand fair elections and justice for abuses,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
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