EU calls detention of senior diplomat in Belarus 'deplorable'

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

KYIV (Reuters) -The European Union on Thursday condemned the detention of a senior diplomat to Belarus who attended the trial of opposition activists in the capital Minsk as "unacceptable and deplorable".

Evelina Schulz, chargée d’affaires of the EU delegation in Minsk, was detained by Belarusian police for more than two hours on Tuesday as she exited court after the public reading of verdicts in an otherwise closed-door trial, a spokesperson for the EU's diplomatic service said.

"This illegal detention of a diplomat is a serious breach of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations ... and undermines their security in Belarus," Peter Stano, spokesperson for the European External Action Service (EEAS), said in an emailed statement.

The Belarusian chargé d’affaires in Brussels was summoned for an explanation of the incident, according to the statement.

Ten Belarussian activists, many of whom identified themselves as anarchists, were sentenced to between five and 17 years in prison, human rights organization Spring 96 reported. The EEAS described the sentences as "unjustifiably long and harsh".

The Belarus foreign ministry on Thursday responded by condemning Schulz for attending the trial and dismissed the EU criticism as a diplomatic "absurdity".

"We were forced to do this in response to unfriendly actions against our country," Anatoly Glaz, spokesperson for the Belarusian foreign ministry said.

The Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations prohibits interfering in the domestic affairs of the host country and does not include "roaming around the courts or giving assessments of the work of the judiciary," he added.

Diplomatic relations between the European Union and Belarus have been strained since President Alexander Lukashenko crushed protests following elections in August 2020. They deteriorated further after Russia used Belarusian territory during its invasion of Ukraine.

(Writing by Conor Humphries;Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)