PACE President condemns repression of opposition politicians in Belarus

Strasbourg, 27.04.2006 - René van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today condemned the imprisonment and called for the immediate release of opposition politicians - including Mr Alexander Milinkevic, candidate in the recent presidential elections - arrested at a peaceful demonstration in Belarus this morning.

"Only two weeks ago, the Assembly called on the authorities of Belarus to refrain from further intimidation, harassment and persecution against peaceful protesters and opposition supporters," said Mr van der Linden, referring to Assembly Resolution 1496 (2006). "The fact that this demonstration related to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster underlines the Belarusian authorities' determination to prevent their political opponents from engaging with the public on any issue whatsoever. This amounts to a complete denial of the basic rights essential to any pluralistic democracy and is clearly against the interests of the Belarusian people in holding open debate on matters of public interest."

"The fact that, for example, Mr Milinkevich was tried, convicted and sentenced within hours of being arrested is a matter of further concern, given the Belarusian authorities' record of interfering in the criminal justice system," Mr van der Linden continued. "I call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all those detained or imprisoned today and to respect fully the Belarusian people's right to peaceful demonstration."

Speaking from St Petersburg, Mr van der Linden added that he would bring his concerns to the attention of Mr Konoplev, the speaker of the Belarusian House of Representatives, who would be a fellow participant in tomorrow's International Conference on European Parliamentarianism: Past and Present, at which one of the topics to be discussed was that of "international standards for democratic elections."

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