U.S. State Secretary Anthony Blinken has urged Belarus’s government to “immediately” and “unconditionally” release political prisoners jailed for taking part in mass protests against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
In a statement issued late on January 27, Blinken said more than 1,000 political prisoners were now being held in Belarus, while tens of thousands of other “innocent Belarusians” had spent time in jail as well “since, and in the lead up to the fraudulent presidential election in August 2020.”
“Since August 2020, the United States, in coordination with allies and partners, has imposed five rounds of sanctions on officials and supporters of the brutal Lukashenka regime. Those sanctions will remain in place until the authorities cease their relentless repression of the Belarusian people, including by unconditionally releasing all political prisoners,” Blinken said.
Lukashenka claimed victory in the August 2020 election after clamping down on opposition candidates during the campaign.
Many Belarusians have faced trials linked to mass protests sparked by the results, with many Belarusians — and some Western governments — saying the poll was rigged.
The protests were met with the heavy-handed detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have been credible reports of torture during the widening security crackdown.
“The United States calls again for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, recognizing it as a necessary step for Belarus to emerge from its political crisis. We will continue to work for justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators…. We stand with the people of Belarus as they seek a future based on the rule of law and accountable, democratic government,” Blinken’s statement said.