OSCE PA concerned over media freedom in Belarus, Swedish MP says

2009 2009-12-23T16:41:24+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/vigstrem_245.jpg

The Working Group on Belarus at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is concerned over the situation regarding freedom of the media and organizations, as well as a lack of opportunities for political parties to get fully involved in the country's political life, Swedish MP Cecilia Wigstrom told reporters in Minsk on December 22.

Ms. Wigstrom, a member of the working group, is leading a delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly that arrived in Belarus on a three-day visit on Sunday.

She said that the main purpose of the visit was to contribute to cooperation between the Belarusian authorities and opposition for the sake of more democratic elections and general democratization.

The delegation held meetings with Belarusian government officials, representatives of civil society and political parties.

“We appreciate the intensified dialogue with OSCE and other institutions with regard to democratic reforms in Belarus, however we note that there is much work to be done,” Ms. Wigstrom said. “We are particularly concerned about freedom of association and media, and the possibility of political parties and civil society to fully participate in the political life of the country.”

The Swedish MP noted that the delegation had raised the need for abolishing Article 193 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes acting on behalf of an unregistered organization. "We believe it's very important to uphold the freedom of association. And of course this paragraph is also connected to the fact that many political parties and NGOs have not been allowed to register," she said. Belarus' deputy justice minister told the delegation that the authorities were considering abolishing the article, she noted.

Polish MP Pawel Poncyljusz noted that the delegation had met with officials representing the central election commission to discuss a bill of amendments that passed the National Assembly earlier this month.

The two main problems noted by OSCE observers in Belarus' 2008 parliamentary elections were candidate registration and vote counting, he said. "We are delighted that one of these problems has been solved by the amendments, I mean the process of candidate registration," he said, adding that the OSCE still expected the Belarusian authorities to solve the problem of public control over vote counting.

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