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Belarus faces expanded EU and US sanctions, targeting economy

Belarus activist Roman Protasevich, 26, took part in a briefing for journalists and diplomats organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in Minsk on June 14, 2021.
Belarus activist Roman Protasevich, 26, took part in a briefing for journalists and diplomats organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in Minsk on June 14, 2021.STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

BRUSSELS — Responding to the detention last month of a young opposition journalist, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada joined forces Monday to impose further sanctions on the government of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus for its abuses of human rights.

“We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms and international law,” the four said in a joint statement.

“We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus, and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they said.

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They called on Lukashenko to release all political prisoners and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, also voted Monday to hit important parts of the Belarus economy — banking, oil and tobacco and, notably, the potash industry — representing an effort to broaden the punishment by penalizing organizations rather than just individuals responsible for repression. Those sanctions are expected to be confirmed by European heads of state and government who meet later this week.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said 86 individuals and organizations would be targeted with a ban on travel to the EU and asset freezes.

In total, 166 people and 15 entities in Belarus are now under EU sanctions.

The Europeans imposed previous rounds of sanctions after Lukashenko claimed a reelection victory in an August election widely seen as fraudulent and then crushed a popular uprising. But the latest round was incited by the detention of Roman Protasevich, a young dissident journalist who was central in reporting on and coordinating last year’s protests.

Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested May 23 after the Belarusian government forced a passenger jet flying between Greece and Lithuania, both EU member states, to land in Minsk, claiming that there was a bomb on board.

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The sanctions list includes judges and prosecutors who have been involved in sentencing protesters; members of parliament and the government; and law enforcement officials and business executives associated with the government.