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15 March 2006

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, issued the following statement today:

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, strongly condemns the escalation of human rights violations committed by the Belarusian Government against the independent press, opposition candidates and their supporters, and human rights defenders, ahead of the presidential election in Belarus.

The Special Rapporteur expresses his deepest concern over the detention and beating of presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin; the imprisonment of Vincuk Viachorka, aide of presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich; the numerous cases of arrest, trial and ill-treatment of independent political activists; the persecution of Belarusian and foreign journalists, particularly those who were beaten and detained while trying to monitor the arrest of presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin; and the crackdown on independent newspapers, particularly Tovarishch, Narodnaya Volya, Deolvaya Gazeta, and Zgoda, by the Belarusian Government.

The Special Rapporteur also urges the Belarusian Government to promptly stop its campaign of aggression against human rights defenders, particularly the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and its members. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which has already been the object of numerous acts of intimidation in the past months, has now been sentenced for tax evasion for having launched an election monitoring project financed by the European Union under a bilateral agreement explicitly granting tax exemption. Belarusian Helsinki Committee leaders are facing criminal charges that carry jail terms of 5-7 years and confiscation of family property and the organization is under threat of closure by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Special Rapporteur calls on the Government of Belarus to immediately cease all actions aimed at intimidating opponents, journalists and human rights defenders and jeopardizing the free and fair running of the electoral campaign. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government of Belarus to release immediately and unconditionally all political opponents, to bring all violations of freedom of expression and of the right of peaceful assembly to an immediate end, and to ensure that the elections are held in full compliance with international standards.