Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Friday, 4 August 2006 16:45 UK

Belarus prison terms anger OSCE

Belarus opposition supporters holding portraits of missing protesters. File photo
The opposition accuses President Lukashenko of harassment

Europe's security watchdog has voiced deep concern over the jailing of four members of an independent election monitoring group in Belarus.

The chairman of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Karel De Gucht, described the sentences as "disproportionate".

The four monitors were given jail terms ranging from six months to two years.

A court in Minsk found them guilty of taking part in an unregistered group that infringed citizens' rights.

"The long sentences given to two of the young persons can only be said to be disproportionate to the charges. All four have done nothing to merit imprisonment," Karel De Gucht said.

He also urged the authorities in Minsk to release all political detainees in Belarus.

Rounded up

The four monitors are members of the Partnyorstvo (Partnership) monitoring group.

President Alexander Lukashenko. File photo
President Lukashenko has been in power since 1994

Partnyorstvo's head Nikolai Astreiko, 25, was sentenced to two years in jail.

Timofei Dranchuk, 24, received a one-year sentence, while Enira Bronitskaya, 24, and Alexander Shalaiko, 29, were each jailed for six months.

The group planned to deploy independent observers during the 19 March presidential election.

But the four members were detained by the security services in February.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko secured a third term in office, but the opposition and Western countries said the poll was fraudulent.

The EU and US imposed sanctions on Mr Lukashenko and his top officials soon after the election.

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