House passes bill tightening Belarus sanctions
WASHINGTON—The House voted final congressional approval Tuesday on a bill tightening sanctions against Belarus and calling for the release of all political prisoners in the former Soviet republic.
The bill, passed by the Senate last week, was passed by the House on a voice vote Tuesday and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The legislation expands the list of Belarusan officials subject to a visa blacklist and financial sanctions to include security officials involved in the crackdown on protesters challenging the disputed December 2010 elections that gave a new term to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The bill also urged the International Hockey Federation to suspend plans to hold the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship in the Belarusan capital Minsk, saying the Lukashenko government plans to use the event to legitimize its unjust rule.
Lukashenko has repressed opposition and independent media since becoming leader of Belarus in 1994.
He was declared the winner of the December 2010 elections, but tens of thousands of protesters assembled to denounce alleged vote fraud. Police harshly broke up that demonstration and arrested around 700 people, some of whom remain in jail, including two of the candidates who opposed Lukashenko.
The bill requires the release of all individuals jailed in the postelection crackdown as a condition for ending the U.S. sanctions against the government of Belarus.
"This has been the worst political crackdown in Europe in well over a decade," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who sponsored the bill. "The postelection crackdown has followed the pattern, however, of repression that has characterized Lukashenko's nearly 17-year rule.
"Through a series of rigged elections, large-scale intimidation, and the suppression of independent media and civil society, the dictator has long consolidated his control over virtually all national institutions. His dictatorship has the worst record for human rights by far of any government in Europe," Smith said.
The legislation also asks the State Department to report on the Belarusan government's arms sales and cooperation with other countries in censoring or monitoring the Internet. It also states that it is U.S. government policy to condemn the "fraudulent" 2010 elections and work for the release of all Belarusan political prisoners.
It also calls for new presidential and parliamentary elections that will comply with standards set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.