Senator Cardin’s Statement on Zeltser’s Imprisonment in Belarus
WASHINGTON – Yesterday Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, addressed the U.S. Senate with a statement on Emanuel Zeltser’s imprisonment in Minsk. The new Democratic administration continues to put pressure on Belarusian authorities to release the U.S. citizen kept in the Belarusian KGB custody for almost a year.
Here is the text of Senator Cardin’s statement:
BELARUS IMPRISONMENT — (Senate – February 11, 2009)
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I would like to bring to the attention of the Senate a situation which is literally a matter of life and death for an American citizen, Emanuel Zeltser, who has been imprisoned in Belarus since March 12, 2008. Mr. Zeltser is in desperate and immediate need of serious medical treatment–including a coronary bypass operation.
The poor human rights record of President Lukashenka’s regime is well known. No American–indeed no human being–should be subjected to the kind of treatment Mr. Zeltser has been forced to endure during his incarceration. Despite Mr. Zeltser’s grave health condition–he suffers from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, severe arthritis, gout, and dangerously elevated blood pressure–Belarusian authorities have repeatedly refused to provide Mr. Zeltser with his prescribed medications.
He was initially denied two independent medical evaluations and he has reported being physically assaulted and abused while incarcerated. Amnesty International has urged that Belarusian authorities no longer subject Mr. Zeltser to “further torture and other ill-treatment.”
Mr. Zeltser was convicted of “using false official documents” and “attempted economic espionage” in a closed judicial proceeding. The U.S. Embassy in Minsk criticized the proceedings, noting that it was denied the opportunity to observe the trial. The State Department has repeatedly called for Mr. Zeltser’s release on humanitarian grounds. So have others in Congress, especially my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, cochairman Representative Alcee Hastings.
But now the situation appears dire. Earlier this month, Mr. Zeltser was examined by an American doctor. It was only the second time an American physician has been permitted to see Mr. Zeltser. The doctor concluded that “there is a clear and high risk of sudden death from heart attack unless the patient is immediately transferred to a U.S. hospital with the proper equipment and facilities. ….. Refusal to transfer Mr. Zeltser to a U.S. hospital is equivalent to a death sentence.” Specifically, Mr. Zeltser is in dire need of a coronary bypass procedure. The doctor also determined that because he had been denied prescribed diabetes medication, Mr. Zeltser’s left foot may need to be amputated.
In response to a press inquiry in December, the State Department called for “the Belarusian authorities to release Mr. Zeltser on humanitarian grounds before this situation takes an irrevocable turn.” Based on the recent doctor’s report it is apparent that such an irrevocable turn is imminent unless this American citizen can be brought home promptly for the medical treatment necessary to save his life.
Belarus has taken some tentative steps to improve its notably poor human rights record, in particular the release of several political prisoners last August. However, Mr. Zeltser’s continued, and potentially terminal, imprisonment threatens to override those initially encouraging signs. As such, I strongly urge the Belarusian authorities to release Emanuel Zeltser on humanitarian grounds so that he may obtain the immediate medical treatment his doctor has concluded is required if he is to live.
Belarus Round Table at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
President Alexander Lukashenko somewhat softened pressures on the democratic opposition in Belarus over the past year, releasing political prisoners in August 2008, and allowing some space for opposition parties during the September 2008 parliamentary elections. At the same time however, electoral manipulations and continued repressions against civic activists indicate that the regime is far from allowing substantial freedoms to its citizens. Additionally, the global financial meltdown has forced Minsk to undertake several steps that seemed unthinkable a few years ago, including cutting a number of social benefits, devaluing the Belarusian Ruble, initiating further privatization of key state-owned assets, and seeking loans from Russia and the IMF. On the international stage, Lukashenko continues to maneuver between East and West, though it remains to be seen if improved ties with Western Europe will lead to a liberalization of the political situation in Belarus.
Against this background, it is important for democratic opposition and civil society throughout Belarus to seek an active and constructive role, address the mounting economic, political, and social problems, and propose alternative policies to tackle these challenges in the coming year. Please join Pavol Demes, director of GMF’s Bratislava office, as he leads a discussion with Irina Krasovskaya, president of the We Remember Foundation, and Pavel Marozau, coordinator of the Third Way of Belarus, on recent changes in Belarus and possibilities for future development. The roundtable event will be held at GMF’s offices at 1700 18th Street NW on Thursday, February 12, from 3:30pm to 5:00pm.
This roundtable will be followed by the opening of the exhibition “Art Against Dictatorship,” organized by the Third Way of Belarus and the Belarusan Museum in New York – in cooperation with several local and global initiatives. This traveling exhibition addresses the integral part that the alternative arts scene plays in preserving and enhancing Belarusian culture, particularly in the face of political pressures that marginalize their mainstream presence, and will provide unique insights into contemporary Belarusian art. The reception will be held from 5:00 – 6:30pm.
Please RSVP for both events to Carolyn Colome by email (email@example.com) or phone (202 683-2655) by Tuesday, February 10th.