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Parliamentary elections in Belarus: a healthy democracy needs dissent

26.06.2012 – The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), meeting in Strasbourg, today made the following statement:

“With a view to the forthcoming parliamentary elections on 23 September 2012 in Belarus, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy urges the Belarusian authorities to open up political space and to meet their commitments to the OSCE in terms of standards for free and fair elections, electoral reforms, media freedom and respect for human rights.

The committee regrets that Belarus' Central Election Commission has recently decided that there will be no change in electoral legislation prior to the parliamentary elections, as recommended by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). It also expresses serious concern over the continuing arrests of human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists and regrets that several of them remain in jail, despite repeated calls by the Parliamentary Assembly and the international community as a whole to release them and restore their rights.

The committee underlines the importance of non-violent dissent and opposition, which should not be labelled as terrorism and anarchy. The reaction of the authorities to such dissent and opposition is an indicator of the health of a democracy.

The committee calls on the Belarusian leadership to promote a democratic and fair parliamentary campaign and to ensure freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as political rights for all opposition movements. It also urges the authorities to allow international observers into the country to monitor the elections, as well as international human rights defenders to monitor the observance of fundamental freedoms during the election period, and to facilitate their work and actively co-operate with them”.