U.S. Embassy urge Belarus to free opposition activists

The U.S. Embassy accused Belarus on Wednesday of politically motivated imprisonment of two Belarusian opposition leaders and called for their immediate release.

Paval Sevyarynets and Alyaksey Shein were detained late Monday in the capital, Minsk, and sentenced Tuesday to 15 days in prison on charges of illegally distributing opposition materials.

Opposition groups are preparing for a rally Friday, which has been banned by authorities.

Seven other activists were also detained this week by the Belarusian security agency, which still goes under its Soviet name, the KGB. They are awaiting trial.

"We call for an end to political harassment by the authorities and the immediate release of Sevyarynets and Shein, and all other political prisoners in Belarus, including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

The Belarusian authorities did not respond to the U.S. criticism.

Belarus has been ruled since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko, an authoritarian president who has quashed dissent and closed down opposition media. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on him and top members of his government.