The European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament has undertaken a review of the human rights situation in Belarus. The group’s vice president, Paulo Rangel, concluded a two-day visit to Minsk.

Rangel met with members of the centre-right opposition: the EPP observer members the United Civic Party (UCP) with its leader Anatoly Lebedko and the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (BCD) with its leader Vital Rymasheuski. He also assessed the application of the Movement for Freedom Party (MFF), chaired by Yuri Hubarevich.

According to an EPP press release, Rangel met with civil society representatives, evaluated the political situation ahead of the local elections in February.

“Belarus has a big potential to develop closer cooperation with the EU and we have a lot of common interests, especially in the field of security,” he said. “Following my two-day visit in Belarus, it is clear that Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership process is important, but many concerns remain about the democratic standards, including the political and human rights situation in the country. EPP has been closely monitoring the developments ahead of the local elections in February.”

According to Rangel, it is “alarming” that the opposition is still excluded from real participation in the election commissions. “Candidates are harassed or denied registration, and prosecutions against the opposition continue,” he said. “In order for relations to advance, Belarus must ensure the upcoming elections are free, fair and transparent.”

Rangel also stressed that Belarus must remain high on the European agenda. “The national consensus and dialogue between the opposition and the government, especially on important issues for the country like the human rights situation and the implementation of necessary reforms is very important for the development of Belarus and needs to be inclusive.”

“We will continue to offer our full support to the centre-right opposition. We stay impressed by their engagement and commitment to fight for a democratic Belarus and for a better life for the citizens, despite continuous persecution and intimidation by the authorities. The political support to our partners remains undeniable and we hope Belarus will take necessary democratic steps to ensure the dialogue with Europe continues.”