Canada and Britain are imposing sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and senior government officials after a disputed presidential election and a violent crackdown against tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets for the seventh week.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Tuesday that Canada and Britain are acting together to ensure the sanctions have a greater effect and to demonstrate unity in their condemnation of the situation in Belarus.
“Canada will not stand by silently as the government of Belarus continues to commit systematic human rights violations and shows no indication of being genuinely committed to finding a negotiated solution with opposition groups,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement.
The sanctions impose an asset freeze and a travel ban, and target 11 people, including the President and his son.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have been protesting since the Aug. 9 election, which they believe was won by opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Mr. Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has refused to leave office. Official results, widely believed to have been doctored, show he won 80 per cent of the vote, versus 10 per cent for Ms. Tikhanovskaya. She said in an interview with The Globe and Mail this month that she had asked Canada to help mediate the crisis in Belarus.
On the weekend, protesters continued to rally in the streets, marching through Minsk and other cities chanting “imposter” and “Sveta is our president,” according to Reuters. Masked police pulled protesters into vans and fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters, the news wire reported. Two hundred people were arrested.
Global Affairs Canada said the sanctions are being imposed under the Special Economic Measures Act. The department said that since the fraudulent presidential election in August, the government of Belarus has conducted a “systematic campaign of repression and state-sponsored violence against public protests and the activities of opposition groups.”
“Canada stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus as they struggle to restore human rights and achieve democracy in their country,” Mr. Champagne said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Tuesday that Britain and Canada have sent “a clear message by imposing sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s violent and fraudulent regime. We don’t accept the results of this rigged election.”
“We hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights,” he said in a statement.
Veronika Tsepkalo, one of a trio of women who united to campaign together against Mr. Lukashenko in the Aug. 9 election, said she was “very happy” to hear Canada and Britain had introduced sanctions “because the more countries [that] put sanctions on Lukashenko and his people, the better for Belarus, because we understand that Lukashenko doesn’t have any support amongst Belarusian people, nor does he have any support in the international community.”
But Ms. Tsepkalo said the Canadian and British sanctions lists were too short. “Eleven people is definitely not enough,” she told The Globe in a telephone interview from Warsaw, where she has been living in self-imposed exile out of fear of arrest if she had remained in Belarus.
Ms. Tsepkalo said the list of targeted individuals should be expanded to include all those who took part in the election falsification and the postelection crackdown in which more than 12,000 people have been arrested over the course of more than 50 days of protests. “Everybody who was involved in the violation of human rights should be on this list as well, so the list should be definitely increased.”
She said that spouses of top officials should also be face sanctions and travel bans, since they were aware of their partners' activities, and travelled abroad to spend the money their partners made as senior members of the regime.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said his party supports the decision by Canada and Britain to impose sanctions against officials, including Mr. Lukashenko.
“These sanctions against Belarus are long overdue. For weeks we have been calling on the federal government to reimpose sanctions on Belarus – sanctions that the previous Conservative government first imposed in 2006 for human-rights violations, but were lifted in 2017,” Mr. Chong said.
“We remain deeply concerned about the situation in Belarus. Canada must stand up for democracy in Europe and stand with the people of Belarus.”
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