- (Photo: Reuters/J. Scott Applewhite)
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with activists and called for the release of political prisoners in Belarus today.
Belarus has been in political turmoil since the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2010. Lukashenko was first elected in 1994 and won re-election in 2001, 2006, and 2010. Many viewed the last election as rigged, with Lukashenko receiving 80 percent of votes.
Secretary Clinton traveled to the area for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The organization has 56 nations as members and “aims to monitor and encourage democracy and human rights in its region,” according to the American Foreign Press.
Clinton met with a small group of political and human-rights activists on Tuesday. “It is inconceivable that in Europe today, in December of 2011, the Lukashenko government is behaving the way it is behaving,” said Clinton.
The Lukashenko regime has sought revenge on those who oppose it and has imprisoned over 50 protestors, according to reports. One such prisoner is Ales Belyatsky, a well-known human rights activist who brought attention to possible election fraud.
In November, Belyatsky was jailed on charges of tax fraud. Political leaders from the United Nations and United States quickly condemned the charges, citing they were actually retribution for his activism.
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk stated: “Release Belyatsky and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, remove any barriers to their future participation in public life, and cease [your] campaign against critics of the government.”
“We recognize that this has been a brutally difficult year for the people of Belarus. We know that every day there’s a new arrest or a new restrictive law or further harassment against civil society and the media,” Clinton told activists.
She also pledged to work with the European Union and “take actions against the Lukashenko regime, including sanctions and travel bans.”