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Human Rights Watch Blasts Belarus for Closing Helsinki Committee Office


A leading international human rights group is demanding that Belarus reverse a decision evicting the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, from its Minsk offices.

The call by Human Rights Watch follows the government's cancellation of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee's office lease. This left the country's lone rights monitoring group without a registered address required of non-governmental organizations doing business in Belarus. No reason was given for the cancellation.

In a statement Wednesday, a Human Rights Watch official (Holly Cartner) called the cancellation "another blatant attempt to silence ...what's left of civil society in Belarus." Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department called it "the latest attack on Belarusian independent civil society."

The United States and the European Union have long criticized Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for his poor human rights record and for efforts to crush the political opposition. President Bush has called him Europe's last dictator.

The Human Rights Watch statement says the Minsk government has made repeated attempts since 2004 to fine the Belarusian Helsinki Committee for allegedly evading tax payments on tax-exempt grants from the European Union.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.