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Procedure : 2012/2702(RSP)
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Texts tabled :

RC-B7-0393/2012

Debates :

PV 05/07/2012 - 17.2
CRE 05/07/2012 - 17.2

Votes :

PV 05/07/2012 - 18.2

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0300

Debates
Thursday, 5 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17.2. Freedom of expression in Belarus, in particular, the case of Andrzej Poczobut (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on freedom of expression in Belarus, in particular, the case of Andrzej Poczobut(1).

 
  
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  Filip Kaczmarek , author. (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, I am pleased that Andrzej Poczobut was released from arrest last Saturday. However, I am in no doubt that neither his individual case, nor the broader issue of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Belarus, is closed. The repression to which journalists in Belarus are subjected is of a political nature. Criminal law provisions are used to harass independent thought. I believe that provisions which enable such practices should be amended, which is what our resolution calls for.

We defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press, because freedom of expression is one of the fundamental human rights, part of the foundations of democracy. In Belarus, these rights are violated. Those who have the courage to describe reality such as it really is, like Andrzej Poczobut, are severely punished. He has already previously been a prisoner of conscience. We must urge the Belarusian authorities to release all prisoners of conscience. I hope that this will happen soon.

 
  
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  Ulrike Lunacek, author. – Mr President, we were also positively surprised by the fact that Mr Andrzej Poczobut was released last Saturday but, as the previous speaker has said, there is no way that we can be satisfied with the situation of human rights and of freedom of expression in Belarus, especially for journalists, but also for opposition figures, lawyers and other activists.

There have been several criticisms about how Mr Lukashenko is handling his country, which is very close to a dictatorship. I think it is the last dictatorship we have in Europe. I am happy that this Parliament stands united against any violation of freedom of expression in a European country.

So, in our resolution, we demand from the Belarusian authorities an immediate end to all forms of pressure and oppression, whether against journalists, media workers or other activists, and the release of all political prisoners. This is Europe and Belarus is a part of Europe. Repression as we see it in Belarus has no place in Europe.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, even though Mr Poczobut was released from custody, he still faces charges of libel which seem to target him as a result of his journalistic activities and as a member of the Polish minority population, and sadly, he is not the only one. The situation of human rights defenders, civil society representatives, journalists, and citizens in general in Belarus is seriously deteriorating. Freedom of expression, including online on the Internet, is under real pressure. Sadly, this is also taking place with the help of EU-based companies who have exported technologies to Belarus to facilitate this repression.

This kind of aiding and abetting of human rights violations through technologies made in Europe should end. It is indeed the last dictatorship in Europe and we should act to turn that around and make it a democracy as soon as we can. The EU should give a clear signal to the Belarusian authorities that they are not welcome at the Eastern Partnership meeting in Brussels at the end of this month. EU engagement with Belarus is already subject to strict conditionality, and the Belarusian authorities should commit to respect for human rights and the rule of law as they stated themselves in the declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership summit of 2009.

Meanwhile, we should step up our engagement with Belarusian civil society organisations and promote more intense people-to-people contact. Simply put, any and all restrictions on freedom of association, assembly, opinion and expression in Belarus need to be lifted. Respecting these freedoms is among the very basic cornerstones of democracy which, ironically, the Belarusian authorities have committed themselves to respect. We may have to consider additional sanctions and indeed step up our efforts to ensure that the EU sanctions in place are enforced so that they are not just a paper reality.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo, author. (FI) Mr President, Andrzej Poczobut, who is a Polish-Belarusian journalist, and a major activist for the Polish minority in Belarus, was again imprisoned to await fabricated charges and a political trial.

In Belarus, journalists continue to be imprisoned when they express and write their opinion of the country’s President, Alexander Lukashenko, or society generally. The written word, therefore, can be surprisingly powerful. Just writing one’s opinion can result in a prison sentence of many years for libelling the President.

I believe, however, that the events in Belarus say more about the weakness of President Lukashenko’s ego than anything else. He does not even want democracy and a genuine civil society for the country, because he knows that it would mean an end to his tyranny.

Andrzej Poczobut was later freed. This is excellent news. For this, we should be grateful both to the outspoken disapproval and criticism that the Internet makes possible as well as to the European Union and Parliament and their prompt response. The human rights organisation, Amnesty, had already called Poczobut a prisoner of conscience.

In this connection, it is worth reminding everyone that at least 13 other prisoners of conscience are still awaiting their release in prison cells in Belarus. Imprisoning someone because of their opinion is a gross violation of fundamental, universal human rights, as well as a contravention of Section 34 of Belarus’s own constitution.

The European External Action Service and the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership in July should discuss the deterioration of human rights in Belarus as well as the Poczobut case.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka, author. (CS) Mr President, I, too, would like to join those speaking out today in defence of prisoners of conscience. Anyone who is unjustly persecuted for his or her opinions should receive our protection.

I am afraid, however, that our choice of topics to debate completely fails to take account of the lack of Parliamentary time, or of the profound social dangers involved in the breach of some rights. We can certainly adopt resolutions on defending people of any nationality, but we should not, through our choice, ignite ethnic or international disputes that might result in far more serious violations.

Today, we are adopting a resolution intended to defend the rights of Andrzej Poczobut. I am afraid, however, that most of our voters will be much more interested in the rights of another dissident – Julian Assange, one of the founders of the WikiLeaks server. Does it not strike you as a very dangerous precedent that someone who revealed dirty political secrets to the public might be treated as a criminal?

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE), Blue-card question.(DE) The Ambassador of Belarus in Prague was generous in his praise for President Klaus and thanked him for his constructive attitude to Belarus. I wanted to ask Mr Maštálka how he assesses this.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka (GUE/NGL), Blue-card answer.(CS) Mr Posselt, I am not a spokesman for President Klaus.

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski, author. (PL) Mr President, Ms Schaake was right when she said that Andrzej Poczobut has not been acquitted, but was released only for the duration of the trial. This means that he may still face five to seven years in prison. We must remember this. Mr Repo was right when he said that there are still 13 opponents in prison, people who have had the courage to oppose the last dictatorship in Europe – we need to remember this. Why was Andrzej Poczobut imprisoned? Because he is Polish, an opposition figure, and a journalist. As if this were not enough, in addition, he is a brave Pole, a brave figure of the opposition, and a conscientious journalist. This was too much for Mr Lukashenko. Andrzej Poczobut’s fundamental error is that he does his duty and he does a good job of it. The only question is: are we doing a good job?

In this Chamber, there is always somebody, sometimes an entire group, who cannot sustain a consistent line of policy for a long time. Sometimes we use carrots, and sometimes a stick. Let us decide, at least for some time, whether to use one or the other, or both in the longer term. It is always the case that the European Union is responsible for what happens in Belarus – albeit in a small way – to the extent that it is unable to maintain a solid line in relation to the regime in Minsk. I urge both Parliament and the Commission to maintain a consistent policy.

 
  
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  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris, on behalf of the PPE Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, yet again we are here to denounce the lack of freedom of expression in Belarus, a country with which the European Union has neighbourly links. The correspondent of a major Polish daily newspaper, Andrzej Poczobut, was arrested for alleged libel of President Lukashenko, risking a sentence of up to five years in jail. It is not the first time someone has been sent to prison having been accused of libelling the premier: last year, he spent three months in prison and is under a three-year suspended prison sentence for allegedly criticising the President in his newspaper.

The right to freedom of expression and assembly is seriously limited in Belarus, and peaceful protestors were detained and summarily sentenced. There have also been quick and impartial investigations into accusations of torture and other mistreatment, and prisoners of conscience have been denied access to legal aid and medical attention. With this resolution, Parliament must demand respect for human rights in Belarus, something that is essential for any potential, further or subsequent deliberation on enlarging the European Union.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the S&D Group. (PL) Mr President, media censorship and restrictions on the freedom of expression are common practice in Belarus. The media law introduced in 2008 allows for the supervision of media and the government uses it enthusiastically. According to unofficial reports, in 2011, at least 95 journalists were detained, and 13 of them were convicted and imprisoned for alleged failure to comply with administrative duties.

On 21 June, the authorities arrested Andrzej Poczobut, a Polish correspondent working for Gazeta Wyborcza, and a prominent activist of the Polish minority in Belarus. He was accused of defaming the President and undermining the judicial and executive power of the state. Even though Poczobut was released on 30 June, the charges against him have not been dropped, and he may face a long-term sentence.

I strongly appeal to the representatives of Belarus to act in accordance with their international obligations in terms of respect for fundamental human rights, starting from Article 34 of the Belarusian Constitution, which guarantees its citizens freedom of speech and expression.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, the case of the journalist and political activist, Andrzej Poczobut, who is from the Polish minority in Belarus, illustrates the brutality and paranoia of the Minsk regime. Poczobut was detained by the KGB and imprisoned for allegedly slandering President Lukashenko in an article written for an Internet newspaper.

In the EU, criticism of one’s government is rightly considered legitimate debate and encouraged as an integral constituent part of the democratic processes. However, in Belarus, such free expression earned Poczobut the personal ire of the President, a suspended three-year prison sentence and enduring house arrest while awaiting trial.

It has long been clear that, under the Lukashenko dictatorship, there is no rule-of-law provision, independence of the judiciary or even basic standards of human rights in Belarus. EU sanctions against the regime should be increased until Lukashenko steps down and gives Belarusians a democratic vote to determine their own future governance freely. We have had enough, in this Parliament, of another Cuba in Europe.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – Mr President, in order to maintain its grip on power, the Lukashenko dictatorship relies on brutal repression against anyone involved in opposition activity, critical journalism, the defence of minority rights, the defence of human rights or the genuine independent trade union activity which exists.

The arrest and detention of Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Centre, is an illustration of this repression. He should be released immediately, together with all prisoners detained for opposition to the regime.

This Parliament should also be calling for an immediate moratorium on executions and the abolition of the death penalty. I call on the international trade union movement to give its solidarity and its active support to the struggle of working people in Belarus.

The genuine grass-roots trade unions need to be built to defend the interests of the majority of the population in the struggle against mass privatisations and liberalisations of basic foodstuffs and to fundamentally democratise society and the economy to ensure that the wealth can be used in the interests of the majority of the population rather than a tiny political and economic elite.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, it is often the case around the world that rulers who feel their citizens do not want them at the head of the country seek various ways of holding on to power. The more the people long to get rid of the unwanted leader, the harsher and more drastic the methods such a ruler must use to suppress unfavourable public opinion. Journalists and representatives of the dissatisfied populace then become the first victims of repression, as they are often the voice of those seeking political change.

The approaching parliamentary elections in Belarus naturally provoke increased anxiety in government circles, as the political moods of the population increasingly move away from supporting the present regime. Lukashenko’s minions are well paid for what they do, and political change would deprive them of a stable and highly advantageous position in society. They therefore do not hesitate to abuse the legal system in the name of their leader, in order to harass independent journalists and political opponents.

The meeting of Eastern Partnership foreign ministers in Brussels may be a good opportunity for us to warn the Belarus administration that this behaviour is not acceptable in civilised society.

 
  
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  Liisa Jaakonsaari (S&D). (FI) Mr President, I have met Belarusian political prisoners on many an occasion. They are journalists, as is Mr Poczobut in the case being discussed, and trade union activists. Furthermore, many members of my sister party are, at present, serving time in prisons.

The notion of political prisoner is one that should not exist in Europe. The human rights situation is now worsening in the heart of Europe and, consequently, the European Union needs to be more active and persistent at all levels.

It is now especially important that we prepare for this meeting of Foreign Ministers and add the deterioration of human rights to its agenda. It is absolutely necessary. It is even more important that we should support the young people and students who want to go elsewhere in Europe to study and, in this way, produce a new breed of activists.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz (PPE). (PL) Mr President, one week ago, when we submitted a motion for this resolution, Andrzej Poczobut was under arrest. Today – fortunately – he is a free man, albeit released on probation. I would like to say a few sentences about him, because I know him personally. I had the pleasure and privilege of receiving him in my home in Poland, when he represented a delegation of Poles in Belarus. This is a man of unwavering character, who loves freedom and who loves the people who elected him to his position in the Union of Poles of Belarus. This is a man who will not allow any dictator to beak him. He reminds me of Adam Michnik, a legendary figure of the Polish underground, the Polish democratic opposition, who fought for freedom, a journalist and politician. Just as communism in Poland broke its teeth on Adam Michnik and his friends, the Belarusian regime will break its teeth on Andrzej Poczobut. I therefore call on Minsk, Alexander Lukashenko and all his co-workers to be reasonable – if you want to cooperate with Europe, stop persecuting the opposition, including the Poles in Belarus.

 
  
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  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE). (PL) Mr President, there are those who tell us honourable Members: ‘Oh dear, another resolution about Belarus! It does not achieve anything, Mr Lukashenko does not care’. Perhaps the signals sent to Belarus – which definitely do reach Belarus, because today, all the information is available on the Internet – do not affect Mr Lukashenko himself, but I believe that there is a group of people surrounding President Lukashenko who fire employees because they belong to the democratic opposition and work for freedom of expression, and who throw students out of schools and universities, and that those people understand that we will remember their actions. We will consistently prevent them from going skiing in Austria, or from going to Spain for beach holidays. I hope that this will finally have an effect and that we will help to achieve democratic elections in Belarus one day, and that Belarusians themselves will be able to decide about their future.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President, Belarus is regularly the subject of our urgent discussions on human rights here. Not only does the Lukashenko regime oppress its own citizens, but this time, it is a Polish newspaper that is its target, a newspaper that Mr Poczobut works for as a member of the Polish minority. Although he has been released, as we have said here a number of times, the charges have not been dropped. He was sentenced for the first time back in 2011 for allegedly libelling Lukashenko.

It is worth remembering that other prisoners of conscience are languishing in prisons in Belarus. I myself, for example, have adopted a young prisoner of conscience, Mikalai Dziadok, who has now been beaten up in prison, according to information received from his parents. I appeal to you, Commissioner: we should do all we can to get these prisoners of conscience released.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, one of the issues that naturally arises in relation to the journalist, Andrzej Poczobut, is the question of the freedom of the press. The freedom of the press, which we in Europe refer to as the fourth estate, is an extremely important element in every democracy. How far one can go and whether the media can be used to publish insults is quite another issue. I believe that the changeover after half a century from a communist dictatorship to a democracy is certainly a very difficult process, something that is underlined by the excessive nature of the punishment.

I find it hard, however, to understand the reaction of some European politicians, because Mr Poczobut is a citizen of Belarus and lives and works there. We in Europe should tread with particular care when it comes to getting involved in the politics of another neighbouring country and I believe that the exclusion of a country from European organisations or cooperative bodies, as has been recommended here today, is the wrong approach. When we speak of press freedom, we should always use the same yardstick, as we sometimes tend to close our eyes to the issue of freedom of expression when it comes to important economic partners from the Far East or the Arabian Peninsula.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR), Blue-card question. (PL) I have a brief question, since I did not understand from what you said whether you support the arrest of Andrzej Poczobut or whether you object to it. Do you think this is an internal Belarusian matter which the European Union should not get involved in, or do you believe that it is our duty and our job to do so? I assume that one of the reasons why you are paid by European taxpayers is to fight for people like Andrzej Poczobut.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI), Blue-card answer.(DE) I would like to thank Mr Migalski for his question. This allows me the opportunity to explain my position more precisely than I could have done in just one minute. Of course this offers the Members of the European Parliament an opportunity to stop and think. My concern is to find a balance when measuring violations against human rights and the freedom of the press because, as I have already pointed out, we tend to be a little more tolerant of other countries that are somewhat bigger and more important than Belarus. That is my first point.

I also believe that we need to support Belarus on the difficult path to democracy through dialogue and that we should also take a delicate approach. We should not forget that our primary concern must be the people who are under threat; however, we must tread with caution.

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE). (PL) Mr President, at Eastern Partnership meetings, the Belarusian representative constantly repeats that Belarus is marginalised, that it does not play any major role, that we treat it badly (when I say ‘we’, I mean the EU). At the same time, Belarus continues its undemocratic processes, imprisoning people and ignoring signals sent by the European Union, signals which are becoming ever clearer.

I urge the participants in the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers’ meeting in July to assess and review the relationship between Belarus and the European Union, taking into account the fact that Belarus does not respond to our signals and continues to allow human rights violations. Our signals must be taken into consideration by this country to a much greater extent than they have been to date.

 
  
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  Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (PPE). (PL) Mr President, yesterday, we rejected ACTA, having noted some ambiguities in this complex and complicated document, because many people feel that their freedom on the Internet may be limited or compromised. This was a difficult decision, but we made it because freedom, creation and use of information is of absolutely fundamental significance to us. Today, we are asking the same of our neighbour in the east, Belarus. The behaviour of the authorities of this beautiful European country is disgraceful, whereas the brave and sincere attitude of Andrzej Poczobut and other activists of the democratic opposition deserves our greatest admiration and, on their behalf, we loudly demand freedom, freedom of action, and the solidarity and support of all European institutions who strive to achieve the same purposes.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Connie Hedegaard, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, on 23 September, Belarus will go to the polls in parliamentary elections. This debate, therefore, is very timely as we all know that freedom of expression is an essential element for any free election campaign. I think it is extremely timely that we have this very strong message from a very broad part of the European Parliament.

Vice-President/High Representative Ashton remains seriously concerned about the continued lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus.

Since April, when prominent political prisoners Sannikov and Bondarenka were released, there has been no further release of political prisoners and those who have been released remain subject to heavy restrictions on their civil and political rights. Instead, we have, over the last weeks, again seen an intensification of the repressive policies against independent voices, notably by means of administrative fines and sentences.

The spokesperson of Vice-President/High Representative Ashton therefore last week expressed her ‘deep concern about numerous reports over the last weeks of acts of harassment of representatives of civil society, the opposition and independent media’.

The freedom of the media remains seriously curtailed in Belarus and independent journalists are frequently directly targeted by the authorities. In the statement of the spokesperson of Vice-President/High Representative Ashton, particular reference was made to journalist Andrzej Poczobut who, for his journalistic activities, as we have already heard here today, has again been charged with libel against the President.

Earlier this week, Mr Poczobut was released, but the charges against him have so far not been dropped. Other recent cases against journalists include the sentencing of Pavel Sviardlou to 15 days of administrative arrest for allegedly swearing in public.

As Belarus prepares for the September parliamentary elections, an overall climate of fear prevails in which independent political expression or manifestation is not tolerated and independent journalists are systematically impeded from exercising their activities.

The Vice-President/High Representative therefore again calls on the authorities to stop all acts of harassment of representatives of the independent media, civil society and the political opposition and to reverse the current repressive policies.

To Ms Essayah and others who want an increased effort, I have some encouraging news for you. As of today, there is a new development because the UN Human Rights Council earlier today adopted an EU-sponsored resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus, with 22 votes in favour, 20 abstentions and three votes against.

This resolution clearly urges the government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release and rehabilitate all political prisoners and, moreover, the resolution establishes the mandate of a special rapporteur on Belarus who will report annually to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly.

I think that this is a major success for the European Union which this time gained a higher number of positive votes and a lower number of negative votes on the establishment of the special rapporteur than for much milder reporting mechanisms only last year. The situation is serious, but this was some good news.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the next debate.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. (CS) Human rights violations are, unfortunately, a depressing everyday reality in Belarus. The arrest of Andrzej Poczobut is one of many cases showing how the Belarus Government treats journalists from the free media. I utterly condemn the arrest of Andrzej Poczobut, because denial of liberty solely on the basis of a statement of opinion goes against all democratic principles and is a gross breach of Belarus’s international legal obligations. In view of the fact that Belarus is the only European country to allow the death penalty, I am very concerned about further developments in the country as far as human rights activists are concerned. The political situation is, in my view, very dangerous, particularly for active members of civil society in Belarus, and I would like to emphasise the importance of protection and support for activists from the European institutions. I call on the Belarus Government to release political activists from jail and to end the repression of independent and opposition journalists.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE), in writing. – I am deeply concerned about the politically motivated arrest of Mr Andrzej Poczobut, the Polish-Belarusian minority activist and journalist. This is not the first time that he has been imprisoned for so-called libel against the President. The deteriorating human rights situation is reflected in the repression of the national Polish minority, whose journalists are silenced, threatened, and intimidated, as well as the broader, long-standing pattern of judicial harassment against journalists, members of civil society, and human rights defenders in Belarus. Belarusian authorities have breached both national law and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other instruments that Belarus has ratified. I urge Belarus to end arbitrary detentions and travel bans, to allow freedom of the media and freedom of expression, to allow media, opposition members, and human rights defenders to do their work. I remind the Belarusian authorities that political systems based on oppression and fear are not lasting. Fear leads to hate and hate cannot be the basis of a solid political construction, but it is the seed of destruction. Belarusian authorities, it is in your interest to stop oppression and fear.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. – The case of Andrzej Poczobut is an example of systematic harassment of journalists and pro-democracy activists in Belarus. Many similar cases have been referred to in our resolution. The EU has taken decisive action against Lukashenko’s regime by applying targeted sanctions and he cannot expect any concessions in relations with the European Union unless the regime loosens the grip around free media, minorities and human rights defenders. We call on the Council to consider expanding the blacklist of Belarusians, as there appear to be more people responsible for human rights violations linked to Lukashenko’s regime. To help along the democratisation of Belarus, we should now also reinforce our commitment to assist civil society in their struggle, that there should be more brave people like Andrzej Poczobut. Lukashenko cannot possibly arrest the whole country.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (S&D), in writing. – Freedom of media and freedom of expression are among the main pillars of democracy. I deeply regret that these freedoms are limited in Belarus by the legislation and in practice. The case of Andrzej Poczobut illustrates how the authoritarian government of Belarus transforms fundamental human rights into an instrument of domestic political pressure and a tool of international influence. I reiterate that international and Belarusian activists and journalists, as well as ordinary Belarusian citizens, become victims of the Belarusian-controlled judiciary system and do not have the right to a fair trial. The European Parliament calls on the Belarusian authorities to respect their international commitments, to respect human rights and democratic principles. The repressions against civil society and political opposition have to be stopped. Free and fair parliamentary elections this autumn could be the ideal opportunity for the Belarusian Government to show its goodwill to move towards EU standards.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE), in writing. (PL) In view of recent events in Belarus in connection with the arrest of Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist who works for Gazeta Wyborcza and who is an activist member of the Union of Poles in Belarus, which is not recognised by the authorities in Minsk, I believe that his release from arrest was the minimum which the Belarusian Government could have done in an attempt to reverse the current policy of repression which exists in this country. The arrest of a journalist is further evidence of the consistently very poor human rights situation in Belarus. I would also like to express my deep concern over the course of events in Belarus. The Belarusian Government clearly abuses its power and fails to comply with international rules such as the United Nations Declaration or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I urge the Belarusian authorities to respect the principles of democracy, including the right to freedom of expression and to reform legislation regarding freedom of the press and freedom of association. Mr Poczobut’s suspended three-year prison term was designed to suspend his work and to intimidate him with the threat of prison. Will he return to prison if any more articles which do not appeal to the Belarusian Government appear in the press? I call on the authorities to comply with standards of international law. Silencing journalists does not maintain a state’s good reputation, but merely constitute acts of harassment and control.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D), in writing.(BG) I support this resolution because it condemns the clampdown imposed by the Lukashenko regime on the citizens of Belarus. In recent months, the Belarusian authorities have been implementing increasingly restrictive measures against human and civil rights activists in Belarus and against journalists, opposition leaders and representatives of civil society, including court cases and arrests. Freedom of speech is one of the basic civil liberties, which is also guaranteed by the Belarusian Constitution, and its restriction under any pretext is unacceptable in a constitutional state. Belarus’s democratic path is moving towards cooperation with the EU as part of the Eastern Partnership. Unfortunately, this cooperation is hindered by Lukashenko’s policy of repression and censorship. I hope that the President will choose the path of reform and dialogue with the EU so that we can work together on Belarus’s transition to democracy. In this regard, the forthcoming parliamentary elections and the international observers’ assessment of them will play a decisive role. It is important not only for citizens to be able to freely exercise their right to vote on polling day, but also for the pre-election campaign to offer equal opportunities to all the candidates. Only free and fair parliamentary elections will allow us to invite the democratically elected representatives of Belarus’s citizens to play a full part in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

 
  

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