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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

BRUSSELS -- Five members of the European Parliament have demanded an explanation as to why Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been invited to a dinner in Brussels marking the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership.

Several European Union officials told RFE/RL last month that an invitation had been sent to Lukashenka to attend the May 13 dinner alongside the leaders of the EU's other five Eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Lukashenka had not yet responded to the invitation and that they did not expect him to show up.

But the fact that Lukashenka was invited in the first place was troubling, according to the letter, which was initiated by British parliament member Julie Ward and addressed to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Lukashenka’s “regime has maintained a poor human rights record, suppressing dissent, and attacking freedom of speech," said the letter, which was seen by RFE/RL.

"European and Belarus citizens deserve a credible explanation for the invitation, which risks giving the impression of endorsing the [Lukashenka] regime," it said.

“The nature of the regime is an affront to the values espoused by the European Union, which is built on the principles of democracy and the respect for human rights,” it added.

There has been no confirmation of any official Belarusian attendance at the dinner, though it was possible Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makei, who attended the 2017 Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, might attend.

That summit was the first high-level event organized by the EU in which Lukashenka was cleared to attend after having been excluded from the previous four summits.

Belarus, which has been under Lukashenka's rule for 25 years and has been called "Europe's last dictatorship," was sanctioned by Brussels in the wake of the crackdown that followed the presidential election in December 2010.

But in February 2016, in response to the release of all political prisoners, the EU lifted most sanctions against the country.

Those included the lifting of asset freezes and visa bans on 170 Belarusians, Lukashenka among them, and restrictive measures against 14 companies.

Vyacheslav Borisov

Russian authorities said they have arrested a man accused of involvement in the brutal beating nine years ago of prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin.

The St. Petersburg city court press service said on May 7 that Vyacheslav Borisov, a 34-year-old former security guard at a military-related factory, had been arrested not for the 2010 attack on Kashin but for the kidnapping of another man alleged to have participated in the beating.

The arrest is the latest twist in a winding mystery that highlights the dangers faced by many Russian journalists.

Kashin, then a special correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Kommersant, was brutally beaten with metal rods by two men outside his home in November 2010.

The attack drew attention from then-President Dmitry Medvedev, who at the time announced that “the criminals should be found and punished.”

One of the alleged assailants later said that a former regional governor, Andrei Turchak, ordered him to attack Kashin in retaliation for his critical writings.

Turchak, who is now the deputy chief of Russia’s upper house of parliament, repeatedly denied allegations that he was involved in the beating. But he and Kashin had feuded publicly, and Turchak had demanded Kashin apologize for an insulting remark.

Oleg Kashin at a Moscow hospital in December 2010 after he was beaten
Oleg Kashin at a Moscow hospital in December 2010 after he was beaten

In 2015, three men working at the St. Petersburg factory were accused of being the attackers: Borisov, Danila Veselov, and Mikhail Kavtaskin.

In a videotaped interrogation, Veselov said Turchak ordered the attack. And according to other documents filed in Veselov’s case, a longtime associate of Turchak named Aleksandr Gorbunov was identified as another organizer.

Gorbunov later claimed he had been kidnapped, injected with an unknown substance by his captors, water-boarded, and then forced to admit responsibility for Kashin’s beating.

Kashin, who suffered a broken leg and jaw, a severed finger, and extensive bruising, has said he believes Turchak, a top official in the ruling United Russia party, enjoys protection in the matter under President Vladimir Putin's government.

Asked about the arrest of Borisov, Kashin told RFE/RL he heard about it only from news reports.

“I don’t consider it particularly good news,” he said, adding he didn’t believe that investigators will pursue Turchak’s alleged involvement in the beating.

Prior to his attack, Kashin had published biting coverage of pro-Kremlin youth groups and commentaries on issues such as an army conscript who had his legs and genitals amputated after brutal hazing by fellow soldiers.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Carl Schreck in Prague

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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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