European Union foreign ministers have approved a fresh set of sanctions against scores of officials and entities in Belarus including family members of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The list of 78 people and eight entities, expected to be published in the EU official journal on June 21, includes lawmakers, prosecutors, judges and other officials who the bloc says are "responsible for serious human rights violations and for seriously undermining the rule of law, as well as for the repression of civil society and democratic opposition."
Lukashenka's son, Dzmitry, and his eldest son's wife, Liliya, were also put on the sanctions list for "benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenka regime."
The new measures of asset freezes and visa bans were agreed upon by experts tasked with drawing up sanctions on Belarus in response to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight last month in Minsk and the arrest of an opposition activist who was onboard.
The EU has already banned Belarusian airline companies from flying over the bloc’s territory or using its airports over the flight diversion.
Even before the incident, the EU was considering new sanctions over the brutal crackdown on the opposition by the Lukashenka regime in the wake of a disputed election last August.
EU officials are also preparing a series of broader measures aimed at hurting the country's economy, according to the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
"We will approve the package of new sanctions, which is a wider package," Borrell told reporters as he arrived in Luxembourg to chair the ministerial meeting.
Previous rounds of sanctions also hit individual institutions and Lukashenka's inner circle.
If agreed by EU governments at a political level, the latest round of broader sanctions would include a ban on new loans, on EU investors from trading securities or buying short-term bonds, on EU banks from providing investment services, and on EU export credits, Reuters reported last week.
“We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions -- meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Diplomats said EU experts also agreed on tighter restrictions on exports from the bloc of arms and equipment that can be used to crack down on demonstrators.
The proposal to sanction Belarus's state-run industries including potash, a major Belarusian export, as well as restrictions on tobacco, oil, and oil-related products is considered a significant move that will tighten the fiscal screws around the regime.
On May 23, Belarusian authorities scrambled a military jet to escort the passenger flight over its airspace to land in Minsk in what many countries regard as a "state hijacking." After the plane landed law enforcement immediately arrested opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
The EU has already responded to the diversion of the Ryanair flight between two member states by blocking Belarusian airlines from EU airports and airspace. Europe's aviation regulator has also urged other airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.
The EU, the United States, and other countries refuse to recognize the official results of last summer’s election and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader.
Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who says she won the election, has called on the West to implement broad sanctions on the Belarusian regime.