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U.S. blacklists 43 Belarusians for undermining democracy

Secretary of State Antony Blinken imposed visa restrictions against 43 individuals while stating the United States stands with the people of the European country. Photo by EPA-EFE
Secretary of State Antony Blinken imposed visa restrictions against 43 individuals while stating the United States stands with the people of the European country. Photo by EPA-EFE

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The Biden administration on Thursday imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusians it accuses of undermining democracy in the European nation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States "remains alarmed" over the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko that has cracked down on peaceful protesters, pro-democracy activists and journalists during the months of protests that have followed his election win in August to a sixth term.

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The United States, Britain and the European bloc are among Western nations that have rejected the election as neither free nor fair.

No names were mentioned, but those targeted with visa restrictions on Thursday include high-ranking justice sector officials, judges and prosecutors involved in sentencing protesters and journalists, law enforcement leaders and rank-and-file personnel who detained and abused demonstrators, Blinken said.

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"The United States continues to support international efforts to independently investigate electoral irregularities in Belarus, the human rights abuses surrounding the election and the crackdown that followed," he said. "We stand with the brave people of Belarus and support their right to free and fair elections."

The visa restrictions were imposed a day after a Belarusian court sentenced journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova to two years imprisonment in connection to their live-streaming of a November protest.

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The sentencing has sparked condemnation from journalist organizations and human rights groups with the Committee to Protect Journalists describing the prison terms as "naked political persecution" designed to bully journalists reporting on the protests into silence.

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Human Rights Watch called it one form of retaliation the Lukashenko regime uses to punish reporters for doing their jobs, stating at least seven journalists are behind bars awaiting trial.

The sentencing also follows raids on Wednesday of human rights organization Viasna and the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Viasna said the homes of more than 40 activists and journalists were raided during the nation-wide operation.

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The visa restrictions by the State Department are the latest punitive action by the United States against Belarus after the outgoing Trump administration sanctioned one person and four entities in December.

Sixty-six Belarusians were also hit with visa restrictions in two previous rounds of punitive actions over the election and crackdown.

"As of today, [the State Department] has imposed visa restrictions on 109 individuals for their roles in the fraudulent Aug. 9 election last year and the violent crackdown in Belarus," Blinken tweeted Thursday. "The Belarusian people deserve free and fair elections."

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