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European Parliament Calls On Belarus To Free Prominent Activist

Ales Byalyatski was arrested last month

Ales Byalyatski was arrested last month

STRASBOURG -- The European Parliament has called on Belarus to release human rights defender Ales Byalyatski and end the harassment of his Vyasna group.
In a resolution adopted in Strasbourg, lawmakers also called on the EU to expand its blacklist of individuals subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze to include those involved in Byalyatski's arrest and prosecution.
Lithuanian MEP Leonidas Donskis spoke during a debate ahead of the vote.

"If we stop reacting and using harsh words, if we adopt a complacent stance and
ascribe the views of civil liberties and human rights to the specificity of Belarusian society or we succumb to a sort of fatalistic attitude to Lukashenska's regime, the story is over. We and humanity at large will be on the losing side and the regime will apply its logic on us," Donskis said.
Byalyatski was arrested last month and later charged with tax evasion in a case his supporters say is politically motivated. Byalyatski had been circulating reports on the Belarusian authorities' crackdown on peaceful protests.
If convicted, he faces up to seven years' imprisonment and the confiscation of his assets, including the premises from which 'Vyasna is run.
The EU has so far blacklisted 192 people, including Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as well as three companies over the violent crackdown and the subsequent trials of demonstrators that followed Lukashenka's disputed reelection in December 2010.
The resolution says Belarus "intentionally misused and exploited" bilateral and international mechanisms. That's a reference to the banking information on Byalyatski that Poland and Lithuania gave Minsk ahead of his arrest, citing bilateral agreements.
Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem was present during the debate and indicated that both the European Commission was looking into how to make funding of Belarusian organizations more secure.

"The High Representative [for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton,] and the European Commission also believe it is important to prevent similar situations from arising in the future. The interests of those NGOs that have been forced by the regime to open individual bank accounts in EU member states for implementing EU-funded assistance must be adequately examined. We are therefore examining to what extent safeguards can be put in place in this effect," Malmstroem said.