March 20, 1997

The Honorable Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Respublika Belarus
220010 g. Minsk
pl. Nezavisimosti
Apparat Prezidenta Respubliki Belarus

BY FAX AND MAIL

Dear President Lukashenka:

I am writing to express my dismay over steps taken by your government in recent days to intimidate and harass independent civil society in Belarus, in particular the Belarusian Soros Foundation, one of 24 independent foundations established by the philanthropist George Soros. In recent days, your government has: issued a decree which calls into question important tax exemptions of the foundation and other nonprofit organizations; barred the foundation director from entering Belarus; and subjected the foundation and other nonprofit organizations to unjustified investigations. These actions are inconsistent with Belarusís commitments as a member of the OSCE and as a Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Through the official media, your government has accused the Belarusian Soros Foundation of supporting opposition political activities. In fact, the foundation does not support any political parties or partisan political organizations. As you are aware, the foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that provides grants to support a variety of civil society activities in Belarus, in the areas of education and youth, medicine and health, media, human rights, arts and culture and economic reform. In 1995 and 1996, the foundation expended $10,000,000 on programs intended to benefit all people in Belarus, regardless of their political affiliation.

The official media has also claimed that the governmentís actions are not intended to hinder the foundationís activities in Belarus. If this is true, and if your government is serious about supporting the work of the foundation and of civil society, I would ask that you take immediate steps to confirm the continuation of the foundationís tax-exempt status and to end the unwarranted investigations of the foundationís activities and the activities of other nonprofit organizations.

While we are happy to explain the foundationís activities to you or your representatives, we object to doing so in the context of an unjustified and politically motivated investigation.

Sincerely,

Aryeh Neier

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