EU demands release of protesters, journalists

The European Union has demanded the immediate release of the demonstrators and journalists who have been jailed in Belarus over peaceful street protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s decree that imposed a so-called parasite tax on non-working people.

“The latest developments in Belarus highlight a clear need for a broader democratisation process in the country,” the spokesperson for the European External Action Service said in a statement on Friday.

“Freedom of association and of assembly needs to be ensured. Recently detained peaceful protesters, including journalists covering the events, must be immediately released.”

The statement said that the EU was “committed to a stable, democratic and prosperous future for Belarus, for the benefit of its people,” and would continue its “work with all the stakeholders with this objective firmly in mind.”

“Steps taken by Belarus to respect universal fundamental freedoms, rule of law and human rights will remain key for the shaping of the European Union's relationship with the country,” said the statement.

More than 200 people have been fined or jailed over the street protests in many cities in Belarus since early March, according to human rights defenders. At least two journalists have been sentenced to jail and four have been handed fines.

On March 9, Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich to take tough measures against the organizers of street protests against his decree.

"Ihar Anatolyevich [Shunevich], a perfect order should be established in the country. You know what I mean," he said.

Authorities should learn to talk to protesters, but at the same time extremely severe penalties should be used against instigators, not ordinary protesters, those who have found themselves in a difficult life situation and want to draw authorities' attention to them, Mr. Lukashenka said.


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