Labour camp rector ends fast

December 22, 2006

Protest stopped after 53 days as Security Council is forced to hear about the repression in Belarus. Vera Rich reports

Alexander Kazulin, the former rector of the Belarussian State University, last week ended a protest fast after 53 days.

Dr Kazulin, who is in a labour camp, was an unsuccessful candidate in the Belarussian presidential elections last March. He was convicted of inciting "hooliganism", encouraging demonstrations by young people staged after the elections that claimed the results had been falsified.

The fast aimed to draw international attention to violations of human rights in Belarus, appealing to the UN to hold a discussion of the issue by the Security Council.

On December 12, the discussion he requested took place. During a debate devoted to the problems of Lebanon and the Cote d'Ivoire, William Brencick, the US Acting Permanent Representative to the UN, raised the subject of Belarus and Dr Kazulin's fast.

He called on the UN to take note of the lack of freedom of speech in Belarus and to urge the country's regime to free all its political prisoners.

Vitaliy Churkin, Russia's UN Ambassador, refused to discuss the unscheduled issue and walked out of the meeting, resulting in a scheduled discussion of a draft resolution on Iran being postponed.

The same day, the other Belarussian academic who contested the presidential elections, Alexander Milinkievich, a former physics lecturer at Grodno University, was also in the international spotlight. He was in Strasbourg to receive the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.

Awarding the prize for freedom of speech, Josep Borell, President of the European Parliament, drew attention to the fact that Dr Milinkievich, like Andrei Sakharov, after whom the prize is named, combined the roles of "civic leader" and scientist - "a scientist who dreams, who is trying to see the future with a fresh vision unimaginable to others".

Dr Milinkievich, who refused to accept the €50,000 (£34,000) prize (suggesting the European Parliament should donate it to help Belarussians persecuted by the regime), said the prize was not for him alone but for all Belarussians waging "the struggle for Belarus to rejoin the family of democratic European nations".

"We are doing this for our children, who have the right to live in a democratic country," he said.

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