EU preparing sanctions against officials in wake of Belarus election
The European Union is preparing sanctions against ‘a substantial number’ of officials in Belarus in the wake of the recent election that saw President Alexander Lukashenko returned with what he called a ‘landslide victory’ but which has been described as rigged.
There have been widespread protests in the country since the 9 August election and a clampdown against demonstrators by security forces, which has included mass detention and the use of rubber bullets and water cannon. The actions have forced EU politicians to consider reimposing sanctions, which some say were lifted prematurely.
In a 19 August statement, the European Council said its members ‘condemn the disproportionate and unacceptable violence displayed by the state authorities against peaceful protesters. Violence must be avoided and all those unlawfully detained must be immediately and unconditionally released. Civil society and opposition actors engaged in discussions of political transition must be protected from arbitrary arrests and violence. The EU expects a complete and transparent investigation into all alleged abuses,’ adding that the EU would ‘shortly impose sanctions against a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results.’
EU sanctions against Belarus were for the most part dropped in 2015 and 2016, excluding the lifting of the arms embargo.
A February 2016 press release issued by the European Union noted that, ‘On 29 October 2015, the Council suspended until 29 February 2016 an asset freeze and a travel ban for 170 individuals and a freeze on the assets of three companies in Belarus.’
It said, ‘The decision was taken in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on 22 August 2015, and in a context of improved EU-Belarus relations. It followed presidential elections held on 11 October 2015 in an environment free from violence.’
Some observers have suggested that the ‘context of EU-Belarus relations’ referred primarily to Lukashenko’s role in orchestrating the talks intended to secure an end to the fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
An online article published in early 2016 on the website of Radio Free Europe noted that Lukashenko’s administration ‘won praise from the West with its release in August of political prisoners and its role in hosting international talks on ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine, but critics warn that a letup would be premature and Western pressure must continue on Minsk to force democratic reforms and greater respect for human rights and free speech.’