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March 2, 2011

On behalf of the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), we urge you to help bring democracy to Belarus by supporting the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2011 (H.R. 515). This resolution, introduced by Congressman Chris Smith, reauthorizes a prior version of the BDRA that first became law in 2004. H.R. 515 was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement on February 14.

JBANC, representing one million Baltic-Americans across the country, has a great interest in promoting democracy in Belarus. The Baltic countries have become steadfast allies of the United States during the twenty years since the restoration of their independence, but Belarus – which borders the Baltics – remains repressive and authoritarian. The fraudulent Belarusian elections of December 2010 preserved the dictator Alexander Lukashenka’s hold on power, and were marked by brutal crackdowns on those daring to protest the election’s results peacefully and publicly. Over 600 demonstrators were beaten and arrested during the crackdown, including seven opposition presidential candidates now being charged with crimes. Four candidates are still in jail, and several others activists and journalists remain under house arrest.

The new bill expresses the sense of Congress that the President should deny entry into the United States to members of Belarus’ senior leadership, their business supporters, and law enforcement officials involved in the crackdown.  It also states that the President should not support loans to Belarus except for humanitarian purposes and should block certain Belarusian property transactions.  Finally, it authorizes continued support – at 2008 levels – for democratic opposition and civil society groups, including training programs for democratic activists and free media broadcasting to Belarus.

The Lukashenka regime maintains a virtual media monopoly, and last year began to censor and conduct surveillance of the Internet.  His government has raided and closed democratic opposition parties, trade unions, independent media offices, minority religious and ethnic organizations, and civil society NGOs.

The Department of State made very effective use of the sense of Congress provisions of the 2006 Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act.  On behalf of those supporting democracy and human rights around the world, we look forward to ensuring the passage of this important legislation as soon as possible.

Should you have any questions, please contact us at 301-340-1954 or jbanc@jbanc.org.

Sincerely,

[JBANC]

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

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