U.S. Calls For Release Of All Political Prisoners in Belarus
By RFE/RL March 25, 2021
The United States continues to call for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, site of nearly daily protests since a disputed presidential election last year handed Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term amid claims the vote was rigged.
"We stand with Belarusians in their struggle for freedom," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter on March 25, ahead of a planned opposition Freedom Day demonstrations in Belarus to coincide with the founding of the short-lived, independent Belarusian republic in 1918.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the August 9 election, has called on Belarusians to turn out in force on Freedom Day in a bid to reignite the pro-democracy protests, whose numbers dwindled over the winter amid a harsh government crackdown that led to more than 30,000 people being detained.
Price noted that more than 290 Belarusians were political prisoners, while highlighting the plight of Ihar Losik and Marrya Kalesnikava.
Kalesnikava, who faces national-security charges that supporters say are absurd, had her pretrial detention extended on March 22.
Arrested in September, Kalesnikava, a key aide of Tsikhanouskaya and a senior member of the opposition Coordination Council, was remanded in custody until May 8.
Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant, has been held since June on charges his supporters say are trumped up.
He had been charged initially with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of the August 9 presidential election.
Losik, 28, tried to slit his wrists and launched a four-day hunger strike on March 11 after being informed he faced new unspecified charges.
The statement by Price comes a day after the top two members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee also called for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus and pledged their support for the pro-democracy movement in the country.
"We will continue to support the Belarusian people's democratic aspirations until the illegitimate Lukashenka steps down, all political prisoners -- including RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik -- are released and, new free and fair elections are held," Representatives Gregory Meeks (Democrat-New York) and Representative Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) said in a statement.
The statement said that in the seven months since Lukashenka "rigged the presidential election" the Belarusian people have "courageously continued their struggle for democracy and freedom in the face of violent repression."
It also mentioned Freedom Day in Belarus, celebrated on March 25 to commemorate the anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic, which existed for less than a year in 1918.
"We stand in solidarity with all of those who, like their forebearers who sought to rid Belarus of authoritarianism in 1918, wave the white-and-red flag and demand a democratic future for their country," Meeks and McCaul said.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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