OSCE Chairman condemns today's jailing of Belarusian opposition leader Milinkevich and calls for his immediate release

SOFIA, 27 April 2006 - The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, has expressed deep concern about the imprisonment of Belarus's main opposition leader, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, and other activists in Minsk today, and called for their immediate release.

"This is unacceptable" Minister De Gucht said. "Such an action is yet another demonstration of the lack of respect by the Belarus authorities for democratic values, including the right to free expression of opinion and free assembly. Opposition leaders should be safe from arbitrary arrest."

The Chairman-in-Office has also addressed a letter to President Lukashenko in this regard.

Mr. Milinkevich was today questioned by a judge after taking part yesterday in an officially sanctioned demonstration marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

He was sentenced today to 15 days in prison for having participated in an unauthorized demonstration. To hold a rally in the place of assembly was apparently considered by the authorities as the unsanctioned part of the event.

Two other activists, trades union leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, and the manager of the Milinkevich campaign, Sergey Kalyakin, were sentenced to 15 and 14 days in prison respectively, for the same reason.

The trials were held behind closed doors.

Another opposition activist, Vintsuk Vyachorka, Head of the Belarusian Popular Front, was given 15 days administrative arrest for participating in the same demonstration. The OSCE Office in Minsk was able to observe his trial.