The European Union on Thursday announced a slew of punitive measures targeting Belarus over its treatment of civilians arrested following the widely discredited 2020 presidential election and its support of Russia in its war in Ukraine. Photo by Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA-EFE
Aug. 3 (UPI) -- European lawmakers have agreed to impose new sanctions and export controls against Belarus over its attacks on civil society and support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The European Council, which defines the overall political direction of the 27-member block, said Thursday it sanctioned 38 former and present Belarusian officials, predominantly in the judicial and penal sector, including a slew of judges, on accusations of committing "serious human rights violations" and contributing to "the repression of civil society and democratic forces."
Among those named include officials in Belarus' penal system accused of being behind inhuman and degrading treatment, including the torture of political prisoners and citizens detained in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and the ensuing crackdown on protests.
Following authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election on Aug. 9, 2020, in a contest widely described as rigged, protests subsumed the streets of Minsk and were confronted by security forces.
According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 7,000 protesters and bystanders were rounded up in a four day span and were held "in inhuman and degrading conditions." The U.S.-based nonprofit said hundreds were subjected to torture and ill treatment. At least three people died that August due to police actions, it said.
Three companies were also hit with EU sanctions on Thursday, and were identified as Minsk Electrotechnical Plant Named After V.I. Kozlov, Byelorussian Steel Works and chemical company Belorusneft.
They were sanctioned over connections to the Lukashenko regime, while the first two companies named were also blacklisted over their firing of employees who participated in the peaceful post-election protests.
The EU on Thursday also imposed an export ban on aviation and space industry goods and technology on Belarus and prohibited the sale, supply transfer or export of firearms, their parts and components as well as ammunition to the European country.
Further export restrictions on goods -- such as semiconductor devices, electronic integrated circuits, manufacturing and testing equipment, photographic cameras and optical components -- were also put in place on accusations that they could be used by Russia in its war in Ukraine.
The export of dual-use goods and technology was also announced Thursday.
"We have adopted new sanctions in reaction to the Lukashenko's illegitimate regime['s] continued systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and brutal repression against all segments of the Belarusian society," Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said Thursday in a statement.
"Today, we are also taking further measures against the Belarusian regime as an accomplice in Russia's illegal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. We stand by the Belarusian people in their quest for peace and democracy."
The sanctions, which subject those named to asset freezes and travel bans, lift the total number of people the EU has blacklisted in connection to Belarus to 233 people and 37 entities.
Belarus has been repeatedly sanctioned by democratic nations over the widely discredited 2020 election and its support for the Kremlin in its war, as Russian forces invaded Ukraine from within Belarus' borders and has provided Moscow with logistical and other forms of support since.
The European Commission, which is the executive branch of the EU, said in a statement Thursday that it "welcomes" the council's adoption of the targeted restrictive measures against Belarus.
"The new measures create a closer alignment of EU sanctions targeting Russia and Belarus and will help to ensure that Russian sanctions cannot be circumvented through Belarus," it said.
"These restrictive measures are fast-tracked in view of the urgency linked to the fight against circumvention regarding certain highly sensitive goods and technologies."