Britain calls on EU to impose new sanctions against Belarus

Measures to include freezing assets and banning visas of Lukashenko's associates over his human-rights crackdown

The British Government will today press the European Union to impose a set of stringent new sanctions, including a full arms embargo, on Belarus in response to the regime's continuing crackdown on human rights.

At a meeting of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, the Foreign Secretary William Hague will also call on ministers to ban visas and freeze the assets of close associates of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The measures, which are expected to be passed, will be the toughest yet against the former Soviet republic after the disputed presidential elections last year. They come as a new report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) detailed more evidence of widespread human-rights violations.

They are also designed to target big-business interests linked to the Belarussian regime – in particular, Vladimir Peftiev, who is known as "Lukashenko's banker". Mr Peftiev, the country's second-richest man and an economic advisor to the President, runs an arms-manufacturing company and the national telecommunications provider. He also has shares in an Austrian-owned bank and mobile-phone venture, which are likely to be hit by the new sanctions.

Western diplomats say Belarus earns more than £1.14bn annually in weapons sales, much of which goes into a secret fund controlled by the President. The call for tougher sanctions comes at a time of growing anger inside Belarus over the worsening human-rights situation and the country's crumbling economy.

An open letter to Mr Lukashenko, penned by the prominent dissident journalist Nikolai Khalezin, has become a rallying cry for reform with more than two million hits on Russian and Belarusian servers alone.

The country has been experiencing the worst human-rights crackdown in a generation with the regime arresting and imprisoning scores of political opponents after last December's disputed presidential elections. Virtually all the presidential candidates who dared to stand against Mr Lukashenko have been imprisoned or put under house arrest alongside dozens of opposition activists and journalists.

An estimated 300,000 people turned out in central Minsk to protest against the election results and most of those who are being tried face charges of "organising a mass riot". Hundreds more have been handed down brief prison sentences or fines for taking part in the demonstrations.

After a bomb blast on the Minsk metro in April, the repression has worsened with waves of fresh arrests and the closure of some of the few remaining semi-independent newspapers and human-rights groups.

Part of Mr Lukashenko's appeal has been his ability to keep Belarus sheltered from the economic upheavals that swept through the former Soviet republics. But there are now reports that ordinary Belarusians are selling their belongings to access hard currency as the rouble plummets. Two week's ago, Minsk was forced to ask the IMF for an $8bn (£5bn) bailout as inflation tripled to 13.1 per cent in May.

Despite the ongoing crackdown, hundreds of Belarusians defied a ban on public protests and held silent demonstrations last week against the country's worsening economic crisis. Viasna, one of the country's few remaining independent human-rights groups, says 240 people have been arrested since then.

The OSCE report said: "The fact-finding mission indicates the seriousness, duration and scale of gross and systematic human-rights violations. This concern is not only a long list of individual cases of great concern but a system of social control, by fear and harassment, torture and blackmail."

On Friday the UN Human Rights Council signed off on a tough resolution for Belarus which commits the UN to instruct the Human Rights Commissioner to produce a full report on the country.

The council is due to discuss the situation again at its next meeting, where it could take further action.

Mr Hague said it was vital that the international community spoke with one voice against the regime: "The situation in Belarus is entirely unacceptable. We will not relent in our determination to make President Lukashenko recognise the rule of law and democratic freedoms, to free political prisoners and to end the human-rights abuses perpetrated by his government. The Arab Spring is a lesson that basic human rights and freedom of expression must be respected. Lukashenko must understand that he cannot continue to stifle the voice of his own people."

Last week, Mr Lukashenko gave a clear indication that Minsk would not tolerate further street protests. "I will look and watch and then I will strike hard so that they will not get a chance to defect abroad," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Representative

£15500 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This international company deve...

Recruitment Genius: Field Service Engineer - Basingstoke / Reading Area

£16000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established name in IT Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced PPC Search Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue