WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of lawmakers from Europe and North America have written to Alyaksandr Lukashenka to demand he release Belarus's political prisoners -- a move underscoring widespread outrage in the West over the violent repression of protests in the country.
The 270 legislators from 29 countries raised concerns about the detention of Maryya Kalesnikava and two of her colleagues on the opposition Coordination Council.
They also raised concerns about the detention since late July of Vitali Shkliarov, a political strategist with dual U.S. and Belarusian citizenship who is the husband of a U.S. diplomat.
“As transatlantic legislators strongly committed to preserving and strengthening liberty, democracy, and human rights in Europe, we write with deep concern regarding the [Lukashenka] regime’s unjust detention of opposition leader [Maryya] Kalesnikava and her colleagues,”the legislators wrote.
Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, and Illya Saley are ranking members of the Coordination Council -- the opposition organization set up after Belarus's disputed August 9 presidential election with the stated aim of facilitating a peaceful transfer of power.
Kalesnikava and her colleagues have been jailed along with thousands of demonstrators as Lukashenka has sought to squash the largest political protests in the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Lukashenka's security forces also are accused of torturing hundreds of citizens who oppose his grip on power.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusian citizens have taken to the streets to protest the official results announced after the election -- which gave Lukashenka another five-year term with about 80 percent of the vote.
The demonstrators say the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor. They are demanding he step down from power and hold a new election.
Lukashenka has not shown any sign of giving in to the demonstrators' demands. He held a secretive inauguration on September 23 -- prompting the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to declare him an illegitimate ruler.
The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the EU are preparing to impose sanctions against Belarusian officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses.
“We strongly support carefully targeted sanctions against human rights offenders in and outside of Belarus, in coordination with transatlantic allies and international partners,” the lawmakers stated in their joint letter.