Ensure Free, Fair, and Transparent Presidential Elections in Belarus

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With political freedom and freedom of expression already severely limited, Belarusian people’s right to free, fair, and transparent elections is facing an intensifying threat. Since the announcement of the Presidential elections on May 8, 2020, a political crackdown has seen 300+ people detained, tried, imprisoned, or fined. Additionally, the current political forces are openly flouting legal election protocols. On top of that, the some of the key people contesting the status quo of unchanged leadership in Belarus for over 20 years are behind bars as political prisoners. 

(1) On May 29, popular video blogger and activist, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was barred from running when he was arrested while collecting signatures to satisfy a requirement to register as a candidate in the upcoming election.

(2) On June 18, the front-runner, Viktar Babaryka and his campaign chair and son, Eduard Babaryka, were detained, interrogated in the absence of lawyers, and jailed.

(3) In the aftermath of the unlawful arrests and false charges, thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets with the demand to free Viktar Babaryka and other political prisoners. In just two days (June 19-20), a number of journalists covering the protests and over 200 people were arrested.

(4) On June 30, Valery Tsepkalo, a former Ambassador to the United States of America,  and another potential opponent in upcoming elections, was denied registration as a presidential candidate on the ground of alleged falsifying signatures supporting his candidacy.

The forces have united around the single candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who did manage to obtain registration as a candidate in the upcoming elections. These elections, scheduled for August 9, 2020,  have a viable contestant to the incumbent and it is worth the effort to press the current regime by all available appropriate peaceful means to ensure Belarusians have fair chance to express their opinion and this opinion is not misinterpreted by the chain of election administartion. 

Unfortunately, while the human rights violations in Belarus have continued, the United States government has softened its policy and economic restrictions that previously targeted democracy and human rights abuses:

(1)   On October 22, 2019, the Office of Foreign Assets Control issued General License No. 2G authorizing U.S. persons to engage in transactions involving 9 largest state-owned companies in Belarus. Executive Order 13405 previously prohibited such transactions.

(2)   On May 15, 2020, the United States Department of State assisted the Belarusian government in striking a landmark transaction, leading to a large shipment of U.S. crude oil to Belarus;

(3)   On June 24, 2020, several international banks arranged a $1.25 billion Eurobond issuance for the Government of Belarus. Reportedly, over 70% of the issuance is now held by U.S. investors, further enhancing financial strength of the regime. An additional issue is planned for 2021.

The actions and policies of the Government of Belarus and other persons connected to politically motivated persecutions in Belarus continue to pose an extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States. Please stand with the majority of Americans in supporting free, fair, and transparent presidential elections in Belarus and continued growth of democratic movements and institutions in Belarus. Please advocate for Belarus and add this matter to your policy platform.