Exile calls for tougher sanctions on Belarus

Reuters News

2/22/2013 1:18:54 PM - Reuters News

By Derek Brooks

VIENNA (Reuters) - Opposition politician Andrei Sannikov, recently released from jail in his native Belarus, urged the international community to impose tougher sanctions on his country to end human rights abuses.

Sannikov, 58, was sentenced to five years in jail last year for taking part in a protest against Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election, after running against him in 2010 elections. He was Lukashenko┬┤s strongest rival.

"The only language that the dictatorship understands is sanctions," Sannikov, who has been granted political asylum in Britain, said at a conference in Vienna on Friday.

"Whenever there is a softness of the attitude of the international organizations and individual countries, the repression afterwards comes harder."

Western observers from the OSCE intergovernmental organization, at whose conference Sannikov was speaking, considered the election to be fraudulent.

Sannikov called for Belarussian parliamentarians to be ejected from the OSCE┬┤s parliamentary assembly, the only major European international organization that includes the former Soviet republic.

"We should bring up the issue of suspending the membership of Belarus immediately," Sannikov said.

Beyond being removed from the OSCE, Sannikov did not specify what other sanctions should be brought against Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has run Belarus since 1994 and is the only president the country has had, is a pariah in the West for his harsh treatment of political opponents, many of whom have been rounded up and thrown into jail.

His crackdown after the 2010 election prompted the European Union to impose travel bans and asset freezes on the president and his inner circle.

Sannikov dismissed the possibility that anything short of severe measures could help improve the situation.

"Since the European Union has started to involve the dictator in dialogue on human rights, we have seen today the highest amount of political prisoners"

Once a deputy foreign minister, Sannikov took political refuge in Britain last month after 16 months in prison in which he said prison staff tortured him and tried to get him to commit suicide.

His wife, journalist Irina Khalip, was unable to leave Minsk and join him in speaking at the Vienna conference because of restrictions imposed on her by the government.

(Reporting By Derek Brooks; Editing By Georgina Prodhan and Michael Roddy)