PACE rapporteur paints gloomy picture of situation in Belarus
Andres Herkel, the rapporteur for Belarus in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), painted a bleak picture of the situation in Belarus while presenting his report at PACE's winter session in Strasbourg on January 25.
The Estonian MP said that Belarus was always high on the agenda of the PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, although the Committee's members had already grown tired of bad news from the country.
Mr. Herkel said that he had been denied an opportunity to visit Belarus and meet with imprisoned opposition politicians Andrey Sannikaw, Mikalay Statkevich and Zmitser Dashkevich and convicted human rights defender Ales Byalyatski.
According to the rapporteur, his report is based on information provided by Belarusian human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.
The situation regarding human rights and basic freedoms has been constantly deteriorating in Belarus, Mr. Herkel noted.
The centerpiece of his report was a demand that the Belarusian authorities release and fully exonerate their imprisoned political opponents and a call for the Council of Europe to act in accordance with the European Union's sanctions against Belarusian government officials and other people involved in the crackdown on the opposition camp and civil society.
He denied that the sanctions could by any means affect ordinary Belarusians.
Noting that Belarus would hold parliamentary elections later this year, Mr. Herkel said that a free and fair vote was unlikely. Many people in Belarus share the opinion, he added.
Mr. Herkel's report was followed by a speech by Marieluise Beck, rapporteur of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, who highlighted the issue of the death penalty in Belarus. She called on PACE to reiterate its call for Belarus to abolish capital punishment.