Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union concerning the closure of the ISEPS

The European Union is concerned at the recent measures by the Belarusian authorities regarding control and closure of non-governmental organisations and, in particular, at the decision by the Supreme Court of Belarus to shut down the Independent Institute of Socio- Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS).

The Institute plays an important and essential role in assessing Belarusian public opinion, including as regards elections. It has gained an excellent reputation for its professional and objective work. The closure of the Institute will further limit the availability of information on public opinion regarding various aspects of political, social and economic life in Belarus.

Conducting independent research into citizens views on topical issues is a normal activity in any democratic society and we therefore urge the Belarusian authorities not to deprive their people – and themselves – of valuable information about public opinion.

We note that the decision by the Supreme Court is yet another sign of attempts by the authorities in Minsk to turn Belarusian society into a closed one. We constantly receive reports of harassment and intimidation of civil society in Belarus. Freedom of the media and access to independent information have been seriously undermined by the activities of the Belarusian Government. Freedom of association is curtailed by unduly restrictive formalities.

As a result of its policy, the Belarusian Government has cut itself off from the offers and advantages held out by the European Union's neighbourhood policy. The European Union once again calls on the Government to respect the OSCE commitments freely undertaken by Belarus and to start developing good relations with civil society in a constructive manner.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Country Croatia *, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, align themselves with this declaration.

* Croatia continues to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.