BRUSSELS -- Thirty-five members of the European Parliament have criticized the European Union’s position toward Belarus in a letter, saying that the bloc's relationship with Minsk is centered on economic cooperation, trade, and assistance instead of being focused on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
The March 21 letter, seen by RFE/RL, was addressed to Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, and Johannes Hahn, the bloc's representative for neighborhood policy.
“We wish to reiterate our concern that the EU-Belarus relations, as they are being currently developed, tend to be increasingly dominated by questions of economy, trade, and assistance. We remain confident that EU-Belarus relations must continue to be based, first and foremost, on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law," the letter says.
The EU introduced sanctions on four Belarusian companies and 174 individuals, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, after a violent crackdown on demonstrators that followed the December 2010 presidential election.
In February 2016, the bloc's foreign ministers removed the companies and 170 of individuals from the list, including Lukashenka, citing what it said were improvements in the human rights situation in the ex-Soviet republic.
At the same time, the EU also allowed enhanced cooperation between Minsk and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), and abolished textile quotas.
The letter notes that "in spite of meaningful steps of goodwill and openness demonstrated by the EU side, the situation with regard to basic human rights and democracy in Belarus is far from showing signs of any tangible progress and change."
Belarusian authorities continue to detain two political prisoners, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka, and “not a single previously released political prisoner has been ever rehabilitated,” the lawmakers say in their letter.
“Over the recent months, judicial and other kinds of harassment were used against independent journalists with foreign accreditation, such as Belsat TV. Also, two leading independent internet portals, Charter 97 and Belarusian Partisan, experienced restrictions and blocking from the Ministry of Information,” the lawmakers said.