By Vatican News staff reporter
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed a sixth term as president following last year’s disputed presidential elections, leading to massive protests throughout the country.
In response, security forces launched a nation-wide crackdown, with more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten and jailed.
On the anniversary of the election, US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Belarusian entities, including state-owned businesses, the Belarusian National Olympic committee, and private companies with ties to Lukashenko’s regime.
“It is the responsibility of all those who care about human rights, free and fair elections and freedom of expression to stand against this oppression,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States will continue to stand up for human rights and free expression, while holding the Lukashenka regime accountable, in concert with our allies and partners.”
In his statement, Biden called on Belarus to release all political prisoners and to begin talks with the opposition for a free and fair election that would be observed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Other nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also announced new sanctions. In response to a question from journalists specifically about the British sanctions, Lukashenko said, “You in Britain can choke on these sanctions.”
The anniversary was also marked by a statement by the European Union, describing the presidential elections as “fraudulent.” “On 9 August 2020, the people of Belarus saw their hopes to elect a legitimate leader of the country brutally dashed,” the statement reads. “Since then, the people of Belarus have continuously and bravely stood up for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The statement notes the regime’s crackdown on dissent, which it says is “consistently deepening the rift with the Belarusian people.”
It continues, “Together with like-minded partners, the EU has been vocal and united in calling on the Lukashenko regime to end its repressive practices. In line with its gradual approach, the EU stands ready to consider further measures in light of the regime’s blatant disregard of international commitments. The only way to end the political crisis is through an inclusive national dialogue.”
The European Union, it states, continues to support the Belarusian people. It “will continue to support a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous and stable Belarus". The statement concludes, “The voices and the will of the people of Belarus will not be silenced.”