West ‘not serious enough’ with ‘totalitarian’ Belarus


Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented ‘totalitarian’-style assault on dissent, an independent expert appointed by the U.N. to monitor the country said on Monday.

“Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against civil society, curtailing a broad spectrum of rights and freedoms, targeting people from all walks of life, while systematically persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and lawyers in particular,” Anaïs Marin stated in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“It is a form of purge that recalls those practiced by totalitarian states,” she told the Geneva-based forum.


A court in Belarus on Tuesday sentenced one of strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s leading critics to 14 years in prison on fraud charges, according to news reports. Former banker Viktor Babaryko was arrested in June last year ahead of a disputed presidential election that sparked nationwide demonstrations which gripped the ex-Soviet country for months.

The release into house arrest of hijacked Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich would not have happened without the pressure from Western sanctions, especially those of the EU, according to Vlad Kobets, executive director of the International Strategic Action Network for Security, and David J. Kramer of the Vaclav Havel Program on Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

He and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were tortured while in detention. Now, the West must not fall back into its previous pattern of easing up on sanctions after securing a prisoner release—not least because there are still more than 500 political prisoners in Lukashenko’s prisons, according to the Human Rights Center Viasna, they write for Foreign Policy:

As Brian Whitmore of the Atlantic Council observed: “Authoritarian kleptocracies like those run by Putin and Lukashenka have long been able to have it both ways, reaping the benefits of a rules-based international order and an integrated global economy while at the same time flouting the rules that make such a system operate smoothly. Sanctioning the Putin-Lukashenka axis of autocrats and their enablers sends a clear signal that those days are over.”

Days before the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarusian oligarch Aliaksei Aleksin over his links to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, his family sold its Cyprus-based company along with a bank to a Lebanese businessman, saving both entities from the sanctions-related asset freeze, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reports.

Milan Nic, a Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, has speculated that Russian involvement in the Protasevich abduction could be a way of “testing a new method of ‘rogue’ action”, adds Francis Shin, the Geostrategy and Financial Diplomacy Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Since Belarus already has a somewhat dubious international reputation, the Kremlin believes that Protasevich’s detention could act a litmus test regarding how the international community may react to further provocations and violations of international norms. Crucially, this ‘test’ also allows for Russia to face few repercussions, he writes for New Eastern Europe.



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