Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde on the developments in Belarus
The presidential election that took place in Belarus on 9 August was, as we have all seen, neither free nor fair. The people’s engagement and desire for democratic change was met with a clenched fist by the Belarusian Government. The violence and repression used against demonstrators, journalists and opposition members exceeded our worst fears. The Belarusian authorities themselves state that over 6 000 people have been arrested; the opposition estimates that the real figure is considerably higher.
The Swedish Government was clear about what the demands and expectations were prior to the election: respect for human rights, democratic principles and no harassment of the opposition or civil society. I was in direct contact with representatives of the opposition and of civil society on election day and I reiterated our support for their democratic endeavours and their safety. After the election, we were among the first countries to immediately summon the Belarusian Ambassador in order to convey our strong criticism and condemnation.
The EU has also reacted clearly. On 11 August, the EU issued a strong statement calling for all those who had been deprived of their liberty in connection with the election to be released immediately. The EU also demanded that the Belarusian leadership begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition ant that a thorough review of its relations with Belarus will be initiated.
The Swedish Government has been a staunch supporter of the clear standpoint of the EU. During an extraordinary Council meeting between the EU foreign ministers today, Sweden reiterated that the EU’s reaction to the actions of the Belarusian Government must be strong and reflect the demands we need to set concerning respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that the EU should immediately initiate the process of adopting new sanctions against individuals who are directly responsible for the violence, unfounded arrests and fraud in connection with the presidential election. The minister also stressed that the EU’s measures must not result in the population being isolated or punished for the regime’s violent actions. Sweden also stressed that the EU should increase its support to civil society and independent journalists in Belarus.
The meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council today resulted in a forceful condemnation of the violence against demonstrators and strong demand to release all persons detained in connection with the election. The EU also reiterated that the election was neither free nor fair. The EU expressed its readiness to facilitate a dialogue with the opposition and the possibility to send a mission to Minsk was also discussed. Furthermore, the ministers agreed to launch the process to adopt new sanctions against those directly responsible for violence against demonstrators and for election fraud. This constitutes an important step and is very much welcomed by Sweden. The ministers also agreed to increase support to civil society in Belarus, including through financial means.