OSCE Chairman Karel De Gucht concerned over continuous detentions amid post-election developments in Belarus

BRUSSELS, 23 March 2006 - The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, has expressed his deep concern at the continuing arrests, detentions and arbitrary court trials of political and civil society activists following the 19 March presidential election in Belarus.

"The Belarusian authorities must immediately put an end to the persecution of their opponents. We have received information of over 200 detentions in the first three days following the elections, mainly linked to the peaceful demonstration that is taking place in Minsk. It is unacceptable that people are being detained for trying to uphold their right to assemble and to express their views in a peaceful way", said Minister De Gucht.

"In this light, I urge the Belarusian authorities to release all the people detained in connection with these activities. And I also urge the authorities to show restraint and refrain from repressive actions", he declared.

The Chairman-in-Office stressed that he will continue to closely follow post-election developments, in co-ordination with the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and other relevant OSCE institutions. The ODIHR will focus on restrictions or violations of human rights related to post-election events.

Over 200 supporters of the democratic opposition are known to be in prisons, detention centres or to have been sentenced in court. The Chairman-in-Office and the ODIHR have received confirmation of approximately 20 additional detainees in the cities of Brest, Grodno and Vitebsk.

Many of those detained were seized by police when leaving October Square in the centre of Minsk, where the opposition has held a continuous demonstration since Sunday night. In some cases, detainees have been beaten during arrest.

No information has been made available by the authorities about who is being held, prior to their court hearings. A heavy police presence on the street also affects pedestrians, who have their bags searched for any supplies for the demonstrators.