Britain is preparing sanctions against those responsible for “serious human rights violations” in Belarus, the Foreign Secretary has said, amid concerns of violence, repression and vote-rigging.
Dominic Raab told MPs the Government does not accept the result of August’s “rigged” election and said action would be taken following the “fraudulent” inauguration of Alexander Lukashenko as president.
Thousands of people in Belarus have taken part in more than six weeks of rallies against the authoritarian leader’s re-election.
Mr Lukashenko has run Belarus, a former Soviet nation of 9.5 million, with an iron fist for 26 years and official results of the presidential election had him winning 80% of the vote.
His strongest opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got 10%, and is now in exile in neighbouring Lithuania.
Making a statement to the Commons, Mr Raab said: “The world has watched in horror at the response of the Belarussian authorities.
“They launched a campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment against peaceful protesters.
“We’ve seen horrific scenes of militia attacking demonstrators and then dragging them away.
“UN human rights experts report the authorities have beaten those they held in detention and threatened female protesters with violence, including rape.”
Mr Raab said journalists have been targeted to enable the authorities to “hide their actions”, while opposition officials co-ordinating peaceful protests have been “abducted, imprisoned and expelled”.
He added the unannounced ceremony for Mr Lukashenko’s inauguration “only serves to reinforce his wholesale lack of legitimacy”, noting the UK, the West and the world “cannot sit idly by”.
Outlining the next steps, Mr Raab said: “We do not accept the results of this rigged election. Second, we condemn the thuggery deployed against the Belarussian people.”
He added it is “absolutely critical” that those responsible are held to account, explaining: “We are willing to join the EU in adopting targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence, the repression and the vote-rigging although the EU process has now been delayed in Brussels.
“Given that delay, given Lukashenko’s fraudulent inauguration, I have directed the FCDO sanction team to prepare Magnitsky sanctions for those responsible for the serious human rights violations and we’re coordinating with the United States and Canada to prepare appropriate listings as a matter of urgency.”
The UK introduced its own sanctions regime earlier this year and in July imposed restrictions on individuals linked to the killings of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, among others.