EC’s Commissioner: ”It is essential that Belarus remains a country without political prisoners”

Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on the Belarusian authorities to release political prisoners. Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: “it is essential that Belarus remains a country without political prisoners and respects freedom of expression, association and assembly.”

Ms Ferrero-Waldner added that she notes “in particular the case of Mr Barazenka who is due to stand trial shortly and which we will follow closely.”

The Commissioner also said she welcomes “the announcement of Belarus on 19 November to take concrete steps to allow the printing and distribution of the two independent newspapers “Narodnaia Volia” and “Nasha Niva.”

According to the commissioner, she also welcomes “Belarus’s readiness to discuss in detail OSCE/ODIHR recommendations regarding the improvement of the electoral legislation.”

She thinks “these are important and encouraging steps from Belarus and I am looking forward to their swift implementation as well as additional steps announced by Belarus in line with the EU’s expectations.”

According to Ms Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commission is intensifying technical dialogue with Belarus in fields of mutual interest.”

“I anticipate concrete results to help foster Belarus’s economic development. I also recall the EU commitment of 13 October to reengage with Belarus and to further review its sanctions against Belarusian individuals in the light of further progress towards democracy, respect for human rights and the rule on law,” the commissioner said.

Activist of the “European Belarus” civil campaign Alyaksandr Barazenka was arrested on October 27 in a building of the Investigative Committee of Preliminary Investigation of the city militia department of the Minsk city executive committee, where he had been called in for questioning. The oppositionist is one of the figures of the Process of 14, a criminal case, instigated on article 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus against participants of a peaceful rally of entrepreneurs, held in Minsk on January 10, 2008. It is remarkable that he was arrested just after the European Union lifted sanctions on high ranking Belarusian officials.