Sahkarov Prize Recognizes Plight of Belarusian People

State's McCormack says Lukashenko regime maintaining "dictatorial rule"

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States extended its congratulations to Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich for winning the prestigious Sakharov Prize, named for former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Andrei Sahkharov, which celebrates "freedom of thought" and recognizes achievements in protecting human rights and basic freedoms.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said October 27 that the European Parliament's decision to award the annual prize to Milinkevich "shows that the indomitable human will for open political expression and freedom of speech exemplified by Andrei Sakharov is alive and well in Belarus today."

"The United States is proud to stand with the Belarusian people," he said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Belarus' March 19 elections that pitted incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko against Minikevich were a "fake," and Milinkevich was jailed for 15 days after leading demonstrations against the government.

McCormack said the United States shares Europe's recognition of "the courage of the political opposition in pursuing democracy in the hostile environment that exists in Belarus today."

He said the Lukashenko regime "has repeatedly demonstrated a disdain for basic human freedoms" in its effort to "maintain its dictatorial rule," and he urged the "immediate release" of numerous prisoners of conscience "who are being detained solely because they have tried to exercise their fundamental rights."

The Bush administration has also criticized the March election and the United States has since taken measures such as economic sanctions and barring travel by senior Belarusian officials, as well as authorized financial support for Belarus' democratic opposition. (See related article.)