EU's Ashton condemns Belarus arrests of "silent protesters"
The arrest by Belarus police of scores of people who are protesting silently against the 17-year rule of President Aleksandr Lukashenko was condemned Saturday by the European Union's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton.
According to local human rights groups, more than 1,800 people have been arrested in Belarus since June, when small groups of protesters started contesting Lukashenko's regime by clapping their hands at officials, DPA reported.
When that was banned, dissenters took to organizing other unusual forms of protest - this week calling on people to meet in a square and let their mobile phones ring simultaneously. Police reaction was unchanged, as more than 100 arrests took place.
Ashton said she "regrets the Belarusian authorities' brutal handling on repeated occasions of the 'silent protesters' - ordinary Belarusian citizens who peacefully and legitimately express their discontent over the situation in the country."
The EU's foreign policy chief also condemned censorship of press coverage of the protests and called on Belarus authorities to drop all charges against those detained or sentenced.
Because of the worsening of human rights in the country, EU foreign ministers last month tightened existing sanctions against Belarus.