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Detention of U.S. Diplomat in Belarus

Belarus Asked To Explain Detention of U.S. Diplomat

United States continues to press for respect of civil society, human rights

A U.S. diplomat was briefly detained by police in the Belarusian city of Gomel August 23, the State Department confirmed August 25.

“Police entered a routine meeting this U.S. diplomat was having with representatives of non-governmental organizations,” the State Department said in response to a question taken August 24. “They refused to permit the diplomat to leave for forty minutes, without offering any clear explanation, except for an alleged need to check his identification.”

The department said that Belarusian officials “indicated they will look into the matter and provide us more information, but they have not yet given a full explanation.”

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey recently criticized the government of Belarus for “a continuing pattern of harassment against those seeking to peacefully express their views.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has referred to Belarus as Europe’s “last true dictatorship,” and the State Department’s human rights reports have documented the failure of the government of Belarus to fulfill its human rights commitments. (See Belarus section of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004.)

On August 22 Miklos Haraszti, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, voiced concern over a new criminal investigation involving alleged libel of the president of Belarus in animated Internet cartoons. Haraszti noted that Belarus is the only OSCE participating state that “imprisons people under special provisions on defamation to protect the President.”

“In the past two months Belarus has closed 80 percent of the local offices of three major parties, jailed activists, and levied massive fines against the few remaining independent newspapers,” Casey said.

But such abuses are not new in Belarus. The United States has expressed deep concern about the Belarusian government's assault on academic freedom particularly for shutting down in July 2004 the European Humanities University, a respected private university in Minsk.

The United States has repeatedly called on Belarus' leadership to end these abuses and to respect the rights of the Belarusian people, and has consistently encouraged the development of democratic institutions and a more open society.

Concerning the incident with the U.S. diplomat, the State Department said, “We continue to press the Government of Belarus to respect civil society and to uphold its international commitments to human rights.”

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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