Belarus: pressure grows for release of detained dissidents

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Jan. 10 for the release of opposition candidates, journalists and others detained in Belarus during the crackdown on protests following the Dec. 19 election. Police beat and arrested protesters and rounded up opposition candidates after the vote, which officially handed a fourth term to President Alexander Lukashenko. As of last week, some 200 of the estimated 650 detainees were still being held. (Reuters, Jan. 10)

Some two dozen of those still detained are being held in special KGB political prisons, facing charges of masterminding last month’s protests. These include former presidential candidates Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, Andrey Sannikaw and Mikalay Statkevich, and journalist Natallya Radzina, who is said to be in need of urgent medical attention. In a statement, relatives of the detained called for an international probe of the repression, and sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. (, Jan. 11)

Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced deep concern over the post-election violence, and called for the immediate release of those detained. “I urge all parties to refrain from violence and demonstrate full respect for human rights,” Pillay said.

Pillay cited one incident in which a leading opposition candidate was attacked on his way to a rally in Minsk, hospitalized and later abducted by unidentified persons. She also cited attempts by supporters of opposition candidates to break into a government building, which was followed by the mass detentions. (UN News Centre, Jan. 10)

On Jan. 10, four apartments belonging to opposition activists in the city of Brest were searched by KGB officers. Among those searched was the apartment of Artsyom Tserashonak, who collected signatures for opposition presidential candidates Yaraslau Ramanchuk and Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu in the run-up to the election. Tserashonak was also summoned for interrogation on Jan. 11. Dozens of offices and homes of journalists, activists and opposition supporters have been searched over the past several days. (RFE/RL, Jan. 10)

The Lukashenko government has also warned that it might seize custody of the three-year-old son of a jailed opposition presidential candidate. Authorities say they are investigating the status of the child, who is now living with his grandmother, and are expected to make a decision by the end of the month. The child, Danil Sannikov, is the son of Andrei Sannikov, a leading opposition presidential candidate, and Irina Khalip, a journalist, who were both among those arrested—seized from their car while Khalip was giving a telephone interview to a Moscow radio station. Andrei Sannikov was severely beaten, and his legs broken, according to his lawyer. (NYT, Jan. 10)

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  1. Silence of the “left” on WikiLeaks in Belarus
    Amidst the repression in Belarus, the only thing the so-called “left” in the West has had to say is predictable prattle about how the US is behind the opposition movement there. Now, even if we accept the frankly absurd proposition that the entire opposition movement is an astroturf illusion created by the US embassy—does that justify the kind of repression documented above?

    The Western left’s silence is all the more atrocious given claims that lefty cause cĂ©lèbre WikiLeaks provided intelligence on the dissidents to the Lukashenko regime. As we have noted, WikiLeaks’ man in Belarus and the ex-USSR, the notorious anti-Semite Israel Shamir, makes no secret of his avid enthusiasm for Lukashenko. His recent piece on the execrable CounterPunch, “The Minsk Election in a Wikileaks Mirror,” promises in its opening paragraph to demonstrate “proof positive” from WikiLeaks documents that the December protests were “orchestrated” by the US State Department. Instead, the piece consists almost entirely of shameless pom-pom-waving for the Lukashenko regime, portraying it as a virtual socialist utopia, while implicitly apologizing for the repression (“The people of Belarus expect and demand an orderly, law-abiding society”). The only actual information on WikiLeaks evidence incriminating the opposition movement? One short paragraph. To wit:

    Wikileaks has now revealed how this undeclared cash flows from US coffers to the Belarus “opposition”. In the confidential cable VILNIUS 000732, dated June 12, 2005, an American diplomat informs the State Department that Lithuanian customs detained a Belarusian employee of a USAID contractor on charges of money smuggling. The courier was arrested as she attempted to leave Lithuania for Belarus with US$25,000. In addition, she admitted that had moved a total of US$50,000 out of Lithuania on two prior trips.

    This is his “proof positive” that the whole opposition movement was “orchestrated” by the US? What a bait-and-switch. Why does the supposed organ of the “left” CounterPunch print this twisted propaganda? And when will the Western “left” hold WikiLeaks to account for its association with Shamir, and seeming collaboration with Belarussian dictatorship?

  2. Finally, coverage of WikiLeaks Belarus scandal
    Kapil Komireddi, writing for the Jewish-oriented Tablet magazine Oct. 4, finally takes an in-depth look at WikiLeaks’ apparent collaboration with the Lukashenko dictatorship, betrayal of dissidents into his torture chambers, and relationship with the genuine anti-Semite Israel Shamir. We are still waiting for all the lefties who rallied around Julian Assange to say anything about this. The silence is deafening, folks…

  3. WilkiLeaks’ glib dismissal of Belarus affair
    It has been brought to our attention that last February, Index of Censorship contacted WikiLeaks to request an accounting on the Belarus affair. On Feb. 5, the Index posted to its website the text of its letter to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks’ perfunctory response. Note that the letter asks all the appropriate questions, and requests details—that is, a full accounting of the episode. Note that WikiLeaks replies with a vague and dismissive one-line response that offers exactly no information:

    Our correspondence with Wikileaks:

    It is reported that Israel Shamir is representing Wikileaks in Russia and Belarus.

    The Russian press agency Interfax claim that Shamir met with Vladimir Makei, the Head of Administration for President Lukashenko of Belarus on 19 December.

    In an interview with the agency, Shamir confirmed the existence of a Wikileaks’ Belarusian dossier.

    Two days later in a press conference, President Lukashenko said this:

    “We’re simply going to publish certain documents. We’ll see how those who are published on the Belarusian WikiLeaks site — the supporters [of the opposition] and those who are working behind the scenes — react to this.”

    Lukashenko is reported to be setting up a state-sponsored Wikileaks site. At the moment the president’s state administrative apparatus, including the KGB, are attempting to bring prosecutions against members of the opposition including presidential candidates and the staff of independent media source Charter97.

    We have unconfirmed reports that Shamir has used his access to the Wikileaks’ US diplomatic cables to aid the prosecution of civil society activists within Belarus.

    We would be grateful if you could look into the following, and the following questions:

    a) What is the official status of Israel Shamir at Wikileaks?

    b) Is it true that Mr Shamir has released additional cables from the US embassy in Minsk (i.e. other than the five already on the website) to the Belarus authorities? If so, do you know which cables?

    c) How many cables from the US embassy in Minsk are in Wikileaks’ possession in total?

    We are especially concerned that cables which outline funding relationships between foreign bodies and the Belarusian government may be used to prosecute opposition activists for “commercial crimes”; therefore could you answer the following 2 questions:

    d) Other than the five cables already released on the website, can these be provided to Index on Censorship and or other groups? If so, which cables and when will they be available and to whom?

    e) Have any of the cables relating to Belarus been redacted by WikiLeaks?

    Index on Censorship, as you know, has been broadly supportive of Wikileaks on the question of free expression and freedom of information. Our overall mission is to promote free expression and safeguard the rights of those seeking to exercise their free expression. The actions of the Belarus government, by any standards violate those freedoms.

    We look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency.

    Wikileaks response:

    A representative of Wikileaks responded, ‘We have no further reports on this “rumour/issue”. Another Wikileaks representative told Index “obviously it is not approved”.

    So much for all WikiLeaks’ prattle about “transparency.”