Belarus deports three Russian rights activists

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Belarus deported three Russian rights activists who were observing trials of opposition activists as "undesirables" after raiding their office in Minsk, an international observer group said Saturday.

The three women were ordered by police to leave Belarus within 24 hours and their names were added to black list of "banned or undesirable" visitors, the group said on its website.

The women, named as Lyubov Zakharova, Yekaterina Korosteleva and Irina Paikacheva, were observing the trials of opposition activists charged with fomenting riots after last December's disputed presidential polls.

They were working in a group called the Committee on International Control over the Situation with Human Rights in Belarus, made up of activists from non-governmental organisations from Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member countries, including the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Police came to the activists' apartment in Minsk on Friday evening and cut off their telephone and Internet lines before threatening to break open the door, the committee said in a statement.

They then took the activists to a police station for several hours of questioning before releasing them on condition that they leave Belarus within 24 hours, the committee said.

Two other Russian activists from the committee were detained on Wednesday as they prepared to hold a news conference on rights abuses and also ordered to leave Belarus.

The Russian foreign ministry responded on Friday, expressing "sincere regret" at the deportations and saying that Belarus must prevent such incidents happening again, since Russian citizens are free to travel to Belarus.

The Belarussian authorities have cracked down on the opposition since President Alexander Lukashenko won a fourth term in office in polls that prompted mass protests in Minsk.

This week activists were handed harsh sentences of three to four years in jail for mass rioting and several opposition candidates to the strongman president are currently standing trial.

© 2011 AFP

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