Tue, 18 May 2021

The U.S. State Department said on April 19 it would not renew a special license authorizing transactions with nine state-owned Belarusian companies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the action is a consequence of a 'flagrant disregard for human rights and Belarus's failure to comply with its obligations under international human rights law.'

The U.S. Treasury Department first issued the license to the nine state-owned companies in 2015. They include fertilizer giant Grodno Azot, oil firm Belneftekhim, and oil refiner Naftan.

The license, which allows U.S. persons to engage in certain transactions with the enterprises, had been renewed annually since 2015 through last year due to notable progress on human rights, particularly the release of all political prisoners during this time, Blinken said.

But Washington decided that an extension this year would go against U.S. values and the Belarus Democracy Act, Blinken said.

He added that the nine companies finance and support strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government, 'facilitating its violent repression of the Belarusian people and repeated rejection of the rule of law.'

The State Department signaled last month that it would not renew the license citing the human rights situation.

The Treasury Department now says that companies using the general license will have to wind down transactions with the Belarusian firms by June 3 or face penalties.

Blinken's statement noted that there are more than 340 political prisoners currently detained in Belarus.

He said the country's 'regression' on human rights "is exemplified by the detention of political hopefuls like Syarhey Tsikhanouski, courageous activist leaders like Maryya Kalesnikava, and independent media experts like Ihar Losik -- who are but three among the hundreds of Belarusians unjustly imprisoned by the Lukashenka regime for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Losik, 28, is a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant who has been in pretrial detention since June 2020 on charges widely considered trumped up.

Blinken also called on Belarusian authorities to 'immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained or imprisoned." He also said the United States is committed to working with the international community 'to further promote accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in Belarus."

Lukashenka claimed to win a sixth term in an August election that the opposition says were rigged and that have not been recognized internationally.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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