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OSCE Concerned Over Opposition Trials In Belarus

Former opposition campaigner Vasil Parfyankau is escorted by policemen into court in Minsk on February 17.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is voicing strong concern over the start of legal action against opposition protesters in Belarus.

In a statement, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Audronius Azubalis said, "I would like to stress that freedom of assembly is a fundamental democratic right."

He added: "Of particular concern is that parts of the first trial were held in camera. This is unacceptable. I am also concerned about reports of a number of defense lawyers having their licenses revoked."

On February 17, Vasil Parfyankou, 27, was the first to be tried of about 30 protesters detained after a police crackdown on a December 19 rally in Minsk and who include four opposition presidential candidates.

He was sentenced to four years in prison.

The United States has criticized the trials as a further "negative step" by Belarus.

The Belarus Helsinki Committee said the sentence against Parfyankou was clearly politically motivated.

compiled from agency reports