Human rights watchdog condemns crackdown on Polish minority in Belarus 17:10, 19/09/2005, Associated Press Newswires
A leading European human rights watchdog on Friday condemned the recent crackdown on the Polish minority in Belarus and expressed its concerns over the persecution of journalists and civil liberties activists in the former Soviet country.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe joined the European Parliament and other EU institutions in urging the authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko to immediately release all political prisoners and refrain from using criminal libel and defamation laws to stifle freedom of expression.
"The committee calls on all independent journalists and civil society activists in Belarus to ignore the campaign of intimidation and continue their struggle for democracy and respect for human rights," said the assembly`s legal affairs committee, meeting in Paris. Relations between the European Union and Belarus have deteriorated as Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, has quashed dissent, closed independent media and suppressed opposition parties.
The Union of Poles, representing the small Polish minority in Belarus, is at the center of a bitter controversy between Belarusian and Polish officials that has resulted in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats from each country and the jailing of several of the group`s activists. Lukashenko has accused the association of plotting to bring him down, acting on orders from Poland.
There are about 500,000 ethnic Poles in Belarus, concentrated in the west, near the Polish border. They make up around 5 percent of the country`s population.