Britain has imposed sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko, his son and senior figures in the Belarusian regime in a significant stepping up of international punitive measures in response to continuing human rights abuses in the country.
The Belarusian leader and his son Victor and Igor Sergeenko, the Head of the Presidential Administration, are among eight people who face freezing of assets and a travel ban for their part in the violent crackdown which has followed disputed election results.
Mr Lukashenko is the first leader of a country to be sanctioned under the the Global Human Rights act brought in by the government to counter those accused of rights abuse. The measures stop them from entering the UK, channeling money through banks or trading for profit in this country.
The Canadian government has also announced similar sanctions against the Belarusian government. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Today the UK and Canada have sent a clear message by imposing sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s violent and fraudulent regime.
We don’t accept the results of this rigged election. We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.”
The Foreign Office in London said in a statement: “Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is responsible for a string of human rights violations against opposition figures, media and the people of Belarus in the wake of rigged elections.
“Despite numerous calls from the international community, he has refused to engage in dialogue with the opposition, choosing instead to double down on his violent repression.”
Those subject to the sanctions are President Lukashenko, his son and National Security Advisor Viktor Lukashenko; Igor Petrovich Sergeenko, Chief of Staff to the President; Yuri Karayev, Minister of Internal Affair and a Major General of Militia; Alexander Barsukov, Deputy Minister of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Chief of Public Security Police; Yuri Nazarenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Commander of Internal Troops; Khazalbek Atabekov, Deputy Commander of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; and Dmitry Balaba Commander of the Special Purpose Police Unit of Minsk (OMON).
The UK had earlier moved for the establishment of an international investigation by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into the election and the subsequent violence.
The British government has also doubled its financial support to human rights groups, independent media and community groups in Belarus to £1.5 million over the next two years.
The British and Canadian move follows a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who was forced into exile in Lithuania under pressure from President Lukashenko.
“We had a very good discussion. Now we need to be pragmatic and to support Belarus people and we will do all that,” said President Macron after the meeting in Vilnus. Ms Tikhanovskaya added: “He said that time is very important since many people are suffering from the regime, many people find themselves in jail, and he will do everything to help free all political prisoners… We received an invitation to speak before the French Parliament and we accepted it.”
However in Moscow, Vladimir Putin denounced foreign involvement in Belarusian affairs. “Belarus has found itself in a difficult situation, in conditions of unprecedented external pressure after the presidential elections” said the Russian President.