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May 09, 2014

IIHF World Championship Offers Opportunity to Shine a Light on Human Rights Abuses in Belarus

Washington D.C. –  In preparation for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship which begins today in Belarus, Human Rights First along with a coalition of human rights groups including the Washington, DC Chapter of the Belarusan-American Association, Amnesty International USA, Council for Global Equality, Freedom House, We Remember Foundation, and Joint Baltic-American National Committee issued the following statement:

“From the 9th to the 25th of May, American hockey players will join with their foreign counterparts to celebrate the fellowship and unity of sport at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship in Minsk, Belarus. While politics are not a direct component of the event, the gathering of hockey players from around the globe provides a unique opportunity to shine a light on the gross violation of human rights perpetrated under the leadership of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka.

"There is long-standing precedent for sports to serve as vehicle to highlight the horror of human rights abuses. Earlier this year, the world’s eyes turned to Sochi and the Winter Olympiad in Russia. Coverage of the Games expanded beyond the slopes and medal stands, peeking behind the thin veneer of prosperity and progress achieved under Vladimir Putin to expose the prolonged marginalization of key social groups and the escalating crackdown on civil society that is marking his tenure as President. Most importantly, the impact of the Olympics continues to resound long after the Closing Ceremonies, keeping LGBT Russians on the global stage. Now, as the IIHF World Championship approaches, the world needs to stand united again, for Belarus. As a leader in human rights, America must ask President Lukashenka to do better by his citizens when the puck drops in Minsk.

"Under Lukashenka’s leadership, Belarus routinely violates the rights of prisoners, stifles free speech, gags journalists, disrupts free assembly, and publicly condones widespread homophobia within its borders. Hundreds of prisoners have been executed over the past two decades, some of whose cases were still pending with the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

"For the next two weeks, we are all hockey fans and human rights defenders. Whether in the United States, the Baltics, or beyond, we must stand with the embattled citizens of Belarus, ensuring that President Lukashenka respects their fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Human Rights First urges the United States to stand up consistently for universal values and human rights, the rule of law, and to promote the protection of Belarusian human rights defenders and civil society.

For more information contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.