Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde on the developments in Belarus
I take a very serious view of the developments in Belarus following yesterday’s presidential elections. The police have used violence against demonstrators in a disproportionate and unacceptable manner. Demonstrators and journalists have been detained. There are reports that a number of people have been injured, and there are also reports of deaths. The responsibility for these violent developments lies with President Lukashenko and the Belarusian Government.
The conduct of the presidential elections follows a dismal tradition of undemocratic elections in Belarus. Electoral fraud is thought to have been widespread, including reports of a disproportionately high rate of advance voting. However, this information is difficult to verify as OSCE/ODIHR election observers were not given the opportunity to monitor the elections. Several opposition candidates were prevented in advance from participating in the elections, including through claims of invalid nomination signatures and politically motivated charges. In addition, the election campaign has been plagued by arbitrary detentions and fines imposed on journalists and political activists.
At the same time, the election campaign has demonstrated that demand for democratic change and reforms in Belarus is high. The massive popular engagement for change was clear when I spoke with representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society last night. I also met several of them during my visit to Minsk in November last year. My message was clear: Sweden will continue to support the Belarusian people’s legitimate demands for democracy and respect for human rights.
We now demand that the authorities immediately release everyone who was arrested in connection with the elections and that politically motivated charges are dropped. We expect President Lukashenko to respect democratic principles and listen to the people’s demands for change. Freedom of expression and assembly must be guaranteed, and all cases of electoral fraud and irregularities must be independently investigated. As an initial step, the Belarusian leadership must enter into a genuine dialogue with the opposition.
If President Lukashenko refuses to listen to his people and continues along the chosen path of continued violence, it will have consequences for Sweden’s relationship with the political leadership in Belarus. This will be conveyed to the Belarusian Ambassador today. We are in close contact with our EU partners, including on our further action should President Lukashenko refuse to listen to his citizens.