US sanctions eight Belarus officials

An opposition rally to reject the presidential election results in Belarus and to protest against the inauguration of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, September 27 [File: Tut.By via Reuters]

The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on eight Belarus officials citing their roles in the August presidential election that many Western governments maintain was fraudulent, and the subsequent crackdown on protesters.

“The Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations to choose their own leaders and peacefully exercise their rights have been met with violence and oppression from Belarusian officials,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement on Friday.

The Belarus opposition maintains that the August election was rigged by President Alexander Lukashenko who has been in power for 26 years.

Lukashenko, who was declared the winner by a landslide, has denied electoral fraud.

More than 12,000 people have been arrested in mass protests since the election and all major opposition figures are either in jail or in exile.

Those blacklisted by the US Treasury on Friday include Belarus’s Minister of Interior Yuri Karayev and his deputy Alexander Barsukov.

Both men are accused by the Trump administration of overseeing a law enforcement system “that has abused the human rights of Belarusians on streets and in prison cells across the country, at the behest of Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka [Alexander Lukashenko]”, said the Treasury.

Friday’s action by the Trump administration was done in coordination with the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union “to demonstrate the international community’s solidarity in standing with the Belarusian people against the fraudulent and violent actions of the Belarusian government”, said the US Treasury.

The United States had originally been expected to impose sanctions in concert with the UK and Canada, which slapped travel bans and asset freezes on Tuesday on Lukashenko, his son Viktor and other senior officials on September 29.

Washington, which has had sanctions on Lukashenko and his son Viktor since 2006, held off while waiting to see if the EU would settle an internal dispute, paving the way to coordinated US and EU sanctions, four sources told Reuters news agency.

EU leaders broke the impasse following a summit dinner in the early hours of Friday in Brussels and imposed sanctions on about 40 individuals. The US Treasury Department’s announcement came hours later, with Washington matching some on the EU’s list.

The individuals blacklisted by the US Treasury are subject to asset freezes and Americans are generally barred from doing business with them.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies