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President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
The parliamentary election campaign season has begun in Belarus, with President Alyaksandr Lukshenka making claims that both the West and Russia should look to Belarus to see how free and fair elections are run.

Lydia Jarmoshyna, the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, says it's important that the fall elections be recognized as legitimate by the international community. She says the tone of this year's campaign will be different -- "friendlier," as she put -- ostensibly with regard to the opposition.

But if the past week is any indication, these predictions hardly seem realistic. Even in the early stages of the campaign process, it appears that repressions against opposition activists are continuing unabated.

As reported by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, a United Civic Party activist, Mikhal Pashkevich, was tried for petty hooliganism on June 30 and sentenced to seven days in jail. He was detained on June 28 after attending a party meeting where he was appointed an internal election observer.

Also on June 30, a Belarus Helsinki Committee internal observation official, Eduard Balanchuk, was fined and sentenced to 10 days in jail on charges of resisting the orders of a police officer.

On June 28, another activist, Jauhen Afnahel of the civic group European Belarus, was also sentenced to 10 days for disorderly conduct and public obscenity.

Also on June 28, opposition activist Franak Viachorka -- who was recently expelled from university -- was forcibly taken off a bus en route to Lithuania and told he was on a travel ban list.

Another expelled student, Zmitsier Bulianau, who is studying in Poland, upon returning to Belarus over the weekend, was told by border officials he would not be able to leave the country again, as he was also on the travel ban list.

Both young men are subject to be called up for military duty.
The OSCE's Goran Lennmarker
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is considered to be Europe's leading human rights body, which is why some are concerned that Kazakhstan is scheduled to take over the rotating chairmanship of the organization in 2010.

The country has been struggling with democratic reforms it promised to implement as part of its chairmanship agreement.

The annual meeting of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly is being held this week in the Kazakh capital, Astana. Kazakhstan's commitment to the promised reforms is one of the topics being discussed, and so far words of encouragement are the order of the day.

Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker said the OSCE is "confident that Kazakhstan will continue to work towards" meeting its commitments "in good faith and in a transparent and inclusive manner."

OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut also said he feels confident that Astana will fulfull its commitments.

Read full coverage of the OSCE meeting in Astana here.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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