The European Union on December 17 imposed a third round of economic sanctions on dozens of Belarusian individuals and entities over their suspected involvement in a crackdown on ongoing pro-democracy protests.
The latest round of sanctions was initially announced on December 16 and officially adopted during a meeting the next day of the European Council.
They include restrictive measures imposed on the head of Belarusian state television, Ivan Eismant, Deputy Prime Minister Anatol Sivak, Information Minister Ihar Lutsky, and 26 other individuals.
The sanctions package also includes asset freezes on seven Belarusian companies, including arms exporter CJSC Beltechexport.
The punitive measures follow similar steps in October and last month in which the 27-member bloc slapped asset freezes and visa bans on 55 people, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, following the violent crackdown on demonstrators in the wake of a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was stolen through massive fraud.
Belarusian authorities have carried out mass arrests, forced expulsions, and jailings, including of senior opposition figures, along with a muzzling of the press that helped fuel a record number of journalist arrests worldwide.
But weekly protests involving tens of thousands of people have continued in Minsk and many other cities despite the risk from police batons, tear gas, and water cannons.
Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who entered the presidential race against Lukashenka after authorities jailed her candidate-husband, this week predicted it was just "a matter of time" until Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, steps aside.
Sivak was sanctioned because in his previous capacity as chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee, he was responsible for “arbitrary arrests and the ill-treatment, including torture, of peaceful demonstrators as well as intimidation and violence against journalists.”
Eismant was targeted for “the dissemination of state propaganda in public media” and the firing of striking employees.
Other people listed include the businessmen Alyaksandr Shakutsin and Mikalay Varabei, who the bloc claims are benefiting from their support for the Lukashenka regime, former health minister and current governor of Hrodna Uladzimer Karanik, and Prosecutor-General Andrey Shved, as well as a number of senior police officers and judges.
Arms exporter Belechexport is closely associated with the Belarusian Defense Ministry, “benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenka regime, by bringing benefits to the presidential administration,” the EU said.
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AGAT Electromechanical Plant OJSC was placed on the sanctions list because it is “responsible for implementing the military-technical policy of the state and is subordinate to the Council of Ministers and President of Belarus," as is the OJSC 140 Repair Plant, which has manufactured transport vehicles and armored vehicles that have been deployed against peaceful demonstrations.
Another inclusion on the list is VOLAT, a Minsk tractor-wheel plant that Lukashenka visited shortly after the August election. The EU noted that employees of the plant who protested during his visit and went on strike were fired, making the company “responsible for the violation of human rights."
Other targeted companies include the real-estate developer Dana Holdings/Dana Astra, which employs Lukashenka's daughter-in-law Lilia and whose owners the EU says maintain close relations with Lukashenka.
GHU company, described as “the largest operator on the nonresidential real estate market in Belarus and a supervisor of numerous companies,” is also included, as is LLC Synesis, a tech company.
LLC Synesis is used both by the Interior Ministry and the Belarusian KGB, being accused of providing “the Belarusian authorities with a surveillance platform, which can search through and analyze video footage and employ facial-recognition software, making the company responsible for the repression of civil society and democratic opposition by the state apparatus in Belarus.”