WASHINGTON -- The United States says it has imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusians "responsible for undermining" the country’s democracy, including several high-ranking officials.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on February 18 that Washington remains alarmed by the "continuing violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, pro-democracy activists, and journalists" by the government controlled by authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The statement said the February 16 "raids on human rights organization Vyasna [Spring], the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and independent trade union workers, as well as the February 18 sentencing of journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova are particularly troublesome."
On February 18, a judge sentenced Andreyeva and Chultsova after finding them guilty of "organizing public events aimed at disrupting civil order."
Andreyeva, 27, and Chultsova, 23, in their last statement in the courtroom, again rejected the charges against them, calling them politically motivated because their only reason to be at the protest was to do their job as reporters.
The State Department said it had imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusian individuals "responsible for undermining Belarusian democracy, making them generally ineligible for entry into the United States."
The individuals include "high-ranking justice sector officials; law-enforcement leaders, and rank-and-file personnel who detained and abused peaceful demonstrators; judges and prosecutors involved in sentencing peaceful protesters and journalists to prison terms; and academic administrators who threatened students for participation in peaceful protests," the statement said.
"The United States continues to support international efforts to independently investigate electoral irregularities in Belarus, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that has followed. We stand with the brave people of Belarus and support their right to free and fair elections."
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets, almost weekly, since August when Lukashenka claimed reelection in a vote that opponents called fraudulent.
The demonstrators are demanding that Lukashenka leave and new elections be held, but Belarus's strongman has been defiant. Security officials have arrested thousands and forced top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
The United States, European Union, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka's claim of reelection and have slapped him and other senior officials with sanctions in response to the "falsification" of the vote and postelection crackdown.
The 66-year-old Lukashenka has been in power for 26 years.