Stop playing with the dictator
2:53, — Politics
Response of the European Union to the lawlessness in Belarus has been discussed in Berlin.
The conference “Does Belarus Have A Choice?” held on 3 September in Berlin was organized by the human rights organization Amnesty International and Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Deputy of the Bundestag Marieluise Beck, editor-in-chief of the website charter97.org Natallia Radzina, head of the German office of the Reporters Without Borders Christian Mihr and chairperson of the consortium EuroBelarus Ulad Vialichka spoke at the conference. German public figures, human rights activists, diplomats and journalists joined the discussion.
The organizers from Amnesty International started the conference by emphasizing: ”Belarus is a country where human rights are trampled, and this is happening at the threshold of the European Union”. The human rights activists told about the hard condition of the political prisoners. Special attention was given to a number of prisoners: leader of Malady Front Dzmitry Dashkievich who has recently been convicted to one additional year in prison; journalist Andrzej Poczobut, the suspect in a criminal case; human rights activist Ales Bialatski, imprisoned for having been the chair of the human rights center Viasna; and Uladzislau Kavaliou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, accused of the subway explosion and hastily executed by shooting,
Walter Kaufmann, the host of the discussion and the head of the department on Eastern and South-Western Europe of Heinrich Böll Foundation, started the conference by honoring founder of charter97.org Aleg Biabienin. Walter Kaufmann reminded that for two years ago, on 3 September 2010, the journalist had been found hanged. “Nobody believed the official version of a suicide,” Walter Kaufmann pointed out.
Further, editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina took the floor.
“The presidential election in Belarus began with Aleg Biabienin’s death. We realized that the powers were capable of anything, even a murder. Four months later all the key participants of the election from the opposition were arrested: the presidential candidates, members of their election headquarters, including myself. Today, nearly two years later, the situation in the country is even worse. The political prisoners are still in jail, tortured and pressed, their prison terms extended. The legislature has become much more repressive. According to the new law on mass events, it is illegal to announce a flash-mob event online, to protest by “inaction”. Even Iran has no such laws. The KGB’s authority has been extended beyond limits; now they have the right to storm in to any home, to search and arrest without permit. The opposition is isolated; its members are often banned to leave the country. The freedom of speech is basically eliminated; numerous criminal cases are initiated against journalists, like the case against Andrzej Poczobut charged for libeling Lukashenka or Anton Surapin charged for the photographs of the teddy-bears. The most courageous journalists, like Iryna Khalip, are kept under home arrest. Why is it happening? The European Union has drawn back its sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime since February, and that is why it is happening. Because of these sanctions, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and head of his election head quarters Dzmitry Bandarenka were released. But then the European Union decided to wait for something. As a result – no more political prisoners have been released.
Despite the obvious aggravation of the situation in Belarus, European politicians say they will get back to the Belarusian issue only in late October, after the so-called ”parliamentary election”. What are you waiting for? Till they torture the rest of the political prisoners to death? Enough with playing the non-existing “election”! There’s been no such thing in Belarus for the last 20 years, and it won’t happen now either.
Trust me, I was in prison and I know how slowly the time flows there. Two months is eternity for the political prisoners. They may not survive it.”
Walter Kaufmann agreed that on 19 December 2010 Lukashenka “closed the window of dialogue with Europe”. He pointed out that the coming “parliamentary election” will indeed define nothing, and that nobody should expect the election to be free.
According to head of the consortium EuroBelarus Ulad Vialichka, the day of 19 December became a crucial milestone that has pre-determined the nature of Belarus’ development. He emphasized that today we witness “certain chaos inside the opposition, caused by the fact that some of politicians take part in the “election”, while other support the boycott”. The activist is convinced that in this situation the civil society is frustrated and doesn’t know what side to choose. “Lukashenka is the only one who benefits from the situation, because he acts alongside the principle “divide and rule”, Vialichka said. He also remarked that a part of the opposition acts this way because they are pressed by the powers.
Natallia Radzina clarified to the conference participants that right upon their release, the political prisoners told that the KGB had forced them not only to cooperate with the special services. The cooperation implied obligatory participation in the coming “parliamentary election”. “In other words, a part of the opposition will participate in the “election” under the pressure from the special services. At the same time, the special services skillfully use the others’ political ambitions. By partaking in the election, the opposition legitimizes the election farce showing that in Belarus, there is an election,” the journalists emphasized.
The discussion has also touched upon the European Union’s policy regarding Belarus.
Christian Mihr, the head of the German office of the Reporters Without Borders, said that he fully agreed with the assessment of the situation in Belarus of the editor-in-chief of charter97.org.
Christian Mihr remarked:
“The situation in the country is aggravating dramatically. In the international rating of freedom of speech, Belarus is number 168 of 179 countries. We are particularly concerned with the censorship and control over the Internet. Today it is crucial to speak about the role of German companies in this regard. Much of the technology that originates from the West, including Germany, is used for the censorship. We must regulate the market of technological equipment. This technology should be ranked the same as armor and shouldn’t be supplied to dictatorships.”
Bundestag deputy Marieluise Beck said:
“Esthetically and politically, we must take a hard position regarding Lukashenka’s dictatorship. Lukashenka is personally responsible for the murders of his opponents. In this situation there cannot be any dialogue with his government. On the other side, no matter what position the European Union takes, there is still Russia who is using the moment to its advantage, interfering and supporting the Belarusian regime. The IMF refused to grant the 8-billion loan that Belarus requested, but Russia stretched a helping hand and rescued the country’s economy with a payment for the second part of Beltransgaz and a new loan. This is Belarus’ drama. Its problem cannot be solved unless Russia’s problem is solved.”
Natallia Radzina remarked that the recent sanctions imposed by the EU against Lukashenka are rather symbolic in their nature. She pointed to the fact that head of the Central Election Committee Lidziya Yarmoshyna could visit the OSCE conference in Austria, and Interior Minister Igar Shunievich, who personally interrogated the political prisoners in jail, was allowed to go to France on the Interpol’s invitation. The journalists urged to introduce specific economic sanctions against the regime, like a prohibition to purchase petrol products from Belarus, because this is “the business of the Lukashenkas, and the repression machine is funded from its revenues.”
Marieluise Beck replied that such sanctions may affect the common people, because the export of petrol products is basically the only way foreign currency cash flows reach the country.
In the middle of the discussion, a guest from the audience asked to specify what tortures the political prisoners are exposed to.
The editor-in-chief of charter97.org, who had been in the KGB prison herself, got to speak on the matter. Radzina told about her experience of being kept in a cell with no place to sleep, with no toilet, in complete isolation and no possibility to get medical help after the assault before the arrest. She dwelled upon the tortures of the male convicts:
”During the searches, they were stripped naked and forced to stay in cold for two hours, with their arms behind the head and legs shoulder length apart. The masked special unit soldiers were especially fond of throwing all the fruit from a parcel on the floor and watching the tormented frozen convicts picking them up… They twisted their hands with handcuffs; beat their legs and heads with batons… And this is only a part of what we know from the testimonies of the released convicts. I cannot even imagine what tortures the other political prisoners have to endure today. While these people remain in jail, we will continue to demand the harshest measures to be taken against Lukashenka’s dictatorship. Such things cannot happen in Europe,” Natallia Radzina said.
Within the visit to Berlin organized by the Amnesty International, the editor-in-chief of charter97.org had a few meetings in the Foreign Ministry of Germany and in the Bundestag, where the issue of the sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime and the necessity to cease all the contacts with the Belarusian dictatorship (such as educational seminars for Belarusian security services in Germany) has been raised.
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