Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on the West to impose tougher sanctions on the government of Alexander Lukashenko. He says this is the only way to weaken the regime.
Speaking to RFE / RL’s Prague headquarters on June 8, the former teacher called on politicians in the West to listen to the voice of the Belarusian people.
“We all understand that we can impose an economic block on the regime, that it cannot pay for the police or the military,” Tsikhanouskaya told VOA’s Current Time.
Tsikhanouskaya has left Belarus for the safety of him and his family after the August 9 presidential election, in which his supporters say he won, and is now in Lithuania.
According to official results, 66-year-old Lukashenko won the election, which is considered rigged in the West. Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994. The election was followed by a wave of protests demanding the resignation of Lukashenko.
However, as a result of the dispersal and arrest of protesters, Lukashenko managed to quell a wave of protests. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were detained during several months of demonstrations and several of them died. Human rights groups say the regime is using torture against detained demonstrators and activists.
In response, the European Union, the United States, Canada and other countries refused to recognize Lukashenko as the country’s legitimate leader and imposed sanctions on him and his entourage.
Calls for tougher action against Lukashenko intensified last month. This came after Belarus forced a Rainier flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk, and police detained dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich and his accomplices on board.
UN human rights agencies and Western governments have called for Pratasevich’s immediate release. Since last year, the European Union has imposed triple sanctions on Belarus, including freezing assets and imposing visa bans on 88 individuals and seven companies, including Lukashenko himself. The union worked on the fourth round of sanctions until the Rainer incident. Washington’s response to the protests and the incident was similar to Brussels’ steps.
Tsikhanouskaya expressed optimism that democratic change in Belarus was imminent, despite the repressive actions of the Lukashenko regime.
“Belarusians are fighting from both inside and outside the country. The Belarusian people do many things themselves: underground, silently. “People are so creative that they are finding new ways to shake up the regime,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
On June 8, Lukashenko signed amendments to the Criminal Code to restrict the dissemination of civil rights and information.
Tsikhanouskaya said he would continue to fight and try to maintain the international attention of the Belarusian people. He said Russia, which backs Lukashenko, could play a “constructive role” as a mediator between activists and the regime.
“What is happening in Belarus is an internal matter. This is a fight against the regime. This is not a matter of geopolitics. “However, the regime is becoming a problem for the Kremlin as well,” Tsikhanouskaya said, adding that he and the opposition had no “official contact” with Moscow.
Tsikhanouskaya, 38, ran the presidential marathon after deciding to replace her husband, Svarhei Tsikhanowski. He was arrested last year on charges that his supporters consider absurd. Swarray faces up to 15 years in prison, including on charges of organizing mass riots.
Tsikhanouskaya’s regime allowed him to run in the election, presumably to show that Lukashenko did not see him as a serious contender. However, soon, Tsikhanouskaya became his main opponent and was able to mobilize a large number of supporters.
Amendments to the Criminal Code by Lukashenko on June 8 threaten opponents of the regime and protesters with several years in prison. The law provides for imprisonment for those who repeatedly participate in unauthorized protests.