UN rights chief urges release of Belarus opposition figures

The UN human rights chief on Tuesday called for the immediate release of opposition candidates and their supporters in Belarus as she expressed concern about post-election violence in the country.

"I am very much concerned by the use of force against demonstrators who were not participating in hostilities, violence against and abduction of opposition candidates and their supporters, detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders, and searches and harassment of independent non-governmental organizations," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

Pillay "called for the immediate release of opposition candidates and their supporters who did not call for and were not involved in any violence," her office added in a statement.

Hundreds of people were arrested in the early hours of Monday after riot police broke up demonstrations in Minsk against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko following his landslide victory in Sunday's election.

Seven of his nine election opponents were among those arrested, although authorities provisionally released two of them, their offices said Tuesday.

"While I condemn any calls for or resort to violence on the part of some radical factions in the opposition, I would like to note that the relevant authorities must fully respect and ensure their political opponents' rights to peaceful demonstrations and freedom of speech," the UN rights chief said.

The United States and European Union have led international condemnation of Belarus following the crackdown.

"I urge all parties to refrain from violence and demonstrate full respect for human rights," said Pillay.

Opposition candidates Dmitry Uss and Yaroslav Romanchuk were freed late Monday under orders not to leave the capital while they were being probed for involvement in Sunday's disturbances.

All seven of the detained challengers to Lukashenko are being investigated for "organising mass disturbances," a crime that can be punished by jail terms of up to 15 years.

Authorities said that they had jailed some 600 demonstrators.


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