LibLink: Nick Clegg – We must stand up to this tyranny on our doorstep

Nick Clegg – currently in Poland representing the UK at the EU Eastern Partnership summit – has an op-ed in today’s Independent arguing that more must be done to topple Europe’s last dictator in Belarus. As well as his column, the deputy prime minister will also speak to the people of Belarus over the airwaves via European Radio for Belarus and meet with dissidents and democracy campaigners while in Warsaw.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Imagine a country where torture and intimidation are reportedly common place. Where peaceful protesters are locked up – sent to maximum security prison colonies – and free-thinking journalists are harassed. Where a president can rig election-after-election, despite running the economy into the ground. Where most people are too scared to speak out and the death penalty remains.

It could be North Korea, or Zimbabwe, or Iran. But, actually, it’s much closer to home: Belarus, right here in Europe – where Alexander Lukashenko’s regime continues to tighten its grip on power and ride roughshod over human rights.

If it were not for the tragedy, the regime’s current crackdown would be farce. Take their response to a series of silent protests over the summer. In an effort to stay within the law, protestors didn’t use slogans, or signs, just occasional hand-clapping. How did the authorities react? They banned applause. At the Independence Day parades, the public was warned against clapping anyone other than veterans or artists. The result was resounding silence.

Moves are also underway to make it illegal to gather “for planned action or inaction”. In other words, doing nothing in a group is against the law, if you plan it in advance. Kafka would have been impressed.

Such abuses of power are a scandal wherever you find them. But they are especially chilling on European soil. 2011 makes it twenty years since the Soviet Union fell. Europeans believed that, for us, dangerous dictators would become a thing of the past, and democracy and liberty would flourish.

Yet Belarus is trapped in the past: Europe’s shameful secret, right on our doorstep. So I’m determined we speak out and up the pressure on the regime. When popular uprisings exploded across North Africa and the Middle East, the UK took a stand and took it quickly. We will show the same leadership for Belarus.

You can read the article in full over on the Independent’s website here.

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