Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

"We are most concerned about the government's actions"

In an interview with Tamedia, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), comments on the situation in Belarus and expresses concern about the actions of the Belarusian government. Switzerland has called on the Belarusian authorities through diplomatic channels to exercise restraint, to allow peaceful demonstrations and to refrain from arbitrary arrests.

03.02.2021
Photomontage with Ignazio Cassis looking into the camera and two speech bubble icons with question marks and answers representing an interview.

In an interview with Tamedia, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, comments on the situation in Belarus and expresses concern about the actions of the Belarusian government. © FDFA

Since the presidential elections in August 2020, clashes and arrests have been a frequent occurrence in Belarus. Among those taken into custody was Swiss journalist Luzia Tschirky, who was arrested in Minsk on Sunday. The correspondent for Swiss Radio and Television was walking with acquaintances when without warning she was pulled into a minibus by three masked persons. "The incident fills us with concern," Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis stressed in his interview with Tamedia. "Ms Tschirky was evidently officially accredited as a journalist in Belarus and had all the necessary documentation. For a journalist to be treated in this way – that simply should not happen." After about three hours Ms Tschirky was released, but her two acquaintances were not.

Already on Sunday, Mr Cassis reacted and demanded on Twitter the immediate release of the Swiss citizen. On Monday, the Belarusian ambassador in Bern was summoned to the FDFA. The reasons for the arrests remain unknown.

This is not the first time that foreign nationals have been arrested in the Belarusian capital. Back in August 2020, a 21-year-old man from Valais was arrested. Through close cooperation with the Swiss embassy in Minsk, the case was quickly resolved (to the article). "These examples show the importance of a strong diplomatic external network. I am committed to this," insists Cassis.

Natallia Hersche is another Swiss woman in Belarusian custody. In December 2020 she was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for allegedly resisting a police officer. "The case is complicated because Ms Hersche is not only Swiss but also a citizen of Belarus. From Belarus's point of view, Ms Hersche is simply a normal citizen. But we are glad that Ms Hersche is faring relatively well both physically and mentally in the circumstances. We know this because our ambassador on the ground, Claude Altermatt, has visited her in prison six times so far."

We are most concerned about and condemn the government's actions against the protesters.
Ignazio Cassis

In an interview with Tamedia, Federal Councillor Cassis stressed that Switzerland is closely monitoring the situation in Belarus. "We are most concerned about and condemn the government's actions against the protesters. We have communicated this several times to the Belarusian authorities through diplomatic channels, including myself personally to my Belarusian counterpart." Freedom of assembly and association are internationally recognised human rights, which Belarus has also undertaken to uphold. Switzerland calls on Belarus to honour its international human rights obligations.

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