Kaine Joins Wicker, Shaheen in Bipartisan Launch of Free Belarus Caucus
Bipartisan Caucus to Press for Democracy in Belarus Ahead of First Anniversary of Fraudulent Presidential Elections
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today announced the formation of the Free Belarus Caucus, which will advocate for democracy and free and fair elections in the former Soviet Republic that has been rocked by increasing political violence and repression after decades of rule by current President Alexander Lukashenka. Wicker and Shaheen will serve as co-chairs of the caucus, which includes U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Edward Markey (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who have all joined as founding members.
“The people of Belarus deserve a functioning democracy that protects basic human rights,” Senator Wicker said. “I am glad to join Senator Shaheen to launch the Free Belarus Caucus. I hope this sends a strong message that the U.S. Senate stands with the Belarusian people in their fight for freedom and new elections that are free and fair.”
“I’m proud to work with Senator Wicker and this bipartisan group of lawmakers to establish the Free Belarus Caucus and make clear to the international community that the United States supports the Belarusian people in their determination to build a democratic future,” said Senator Shaheen. “Our bipartisan mission delivers a strong message to Lukashenka that the United States is watching and will continue to respond to his oppressive, dictatorial actions that target the pro-democracy movement, independent media, and free and fair elections. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to meet and work with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to support her vision of democracy in Belarus, which the Senate bolsters today through the creation of this bipartisan caucus. ”
"For decades, the U.S. Congress has demonstrated full support for the aspirations of Belarusians to live in a democratic, sovereign, independent country. We are grateful for the initiative to launch the Free Belarus Caucus in the Senate, which would help respond to the ongoing crisis in Belarus but also to prepare for the future when Belarus joins the family of democratic nations,” said Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“I will never forget traveling to Minsk in January 2011 to meet with the families of opposition candidates jailed by Lukashenka for having had the temerity to run against him in the sham presidential election just the month before,” Senator Durbin said. “And now history has repeated itself once again, with the notable difference that the Belarusian people have had enough. That the Last Dictator of Europe continues to rob his people of the basic freedoms enjoyed by the rest of Europe is a tragedy that must be condemned. This bipartisan Senate caucus demonstrates that the United States Senate will continue to stand with the brave people of Belarus in their hopes for a more democratic country.”
“For too long, President Lukashenka’s oppressive regime has prevented Belarus from giving its citizens a voice and conduct free and fair elections,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to join the Free Belarus Caucus and continue advocating for a democratic Belarus.”
“The Belarusian people deserve to exercise their democratic rights without fear,” said Senator Kaine. “We must hold President Lukashenka and his regime accountable for their increasing repression and stand in support of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s vision of democracy in Belarus. I’m proud to join my colleagues in launching the first ever bipartisan Senate Free Belarus Caucus to advocate for the rights and freedoms of the Belarusian people and to condemn the unacceptable human rights violations by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime.”
“I am honored to join my Senate colleagues in launching this bipartisan initiative to show the people of Belarus that the U.S. Senate stands united with them in their tireless struggle toward a democratic future,” said Senator Sullivan. “I look forward to working with my fellow members of the Free Belarus Caucus to continue to build support for Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and related congressional efforts to support a free and democratic Belarus.”
“I’m proud to join the bipartisan Free Belarus Caucus to signal without question that we stand with the people of Belarus as they fight for their basic rights,” said Senator Markey. “I strongly condemn the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime. As the Belarusian government strips free speech and basic rights away from their own people, the United States Senate will continue to lead efforts to hold the government accountable for their abuses, while calling for a restoration of peace and stability in Belarus.”
Among other initiatives, the Free Belarus Caucus will:
- Press for democracy in Belarus, including free and fair elections;
- Fight for a free media and protection for journalists; and
- Support neighboring countries, such as Lithuania and Poland, in their efforts to help the people of Belarus.
The launch of the caucus follows the Senators’ meeting with Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, last month. It also comes ahead of the first anniversary of a fraudulent presidential election that installed President Lukashenka to a sixth term amid mass demonstrations and increasing state-sponsored violence against journalists, civil society groups, and protesters. His opponent, Tsikhanouskaya, was forced to flee for her safety to neighboring Lithuania, a member of NATO, after the election results were announced.
Since Lukashenka took power, criminalization of the media has resulted in the arrest and jailing of journalists, ransacking of independent media offices, and detention and abuse of civil society groups and protesters. There are more than 570 political prisoners in Belarus, and the situation continues to deteriorate on a daily basis.
Lukashenka escalated the conflict in May when he forced the diversion and landing of Ryanair Flight 4978 as it passed over Belarusian airspace so that Belarusian authorities could arrest 26-year-old activist Raman Pratasevich, an outspoken critic of Lukashenka. The act of piracy and transnational repression illustrated that the Lukashenka regime is a threat not only to the people of Belarus, but to regional partners as well.