Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, it's good to come down for morning-hour, especially today, to hear my colleagues come down and thank staff and people who've been important in their lives, especially in their careers. Jason Altmire, what a great job he did thanking his staff. My friend, Russ Carnahan from across the Mississippi River, thanking family, wife, sons, and staff. For the work we do here, too frequently, many go unappreciated.
But, Mr. Speaker, I did break the code on why we're here so late today. I know a lot of people want to know. We can blame Jay Pierson for that. Jay is retiring today. This is his last day, and we wanted to make sure that we got the last ounce of flesh and blood from him. So if the American people want to know why we're here, it's Jay Pierson's fault.
Jay Pierson is Speaker Boehner's floor assistant. He obviously carries around a copy of Jefferson's Manual. He has been a servant of the House of Representatives for 34 years. He's a truly dedicated public servant. I thank him for his friendship and his support to this body and especially to me personally.
Mr. Speaker, I also wanted to take time out, as I do, to speak about democratic movements around the world, especially in the former captive nations of Eastern Europe, and remember those who are jailed just because they want political freedoms and liberties.
Two years ago after the brutal and bloody crackdown on peaceful demonstrations after the 2010 presidential elections, the human rights of ordinary Belarusian citizens continue to be violated by the Lukashenko government. One candidate who ran against Lukashenko during that election, Nikolai Statkevich, remains in jail. The other jailed candidate, Andrei Sannikov, was pardoned earlier this year and is in exile in Britain. Ales Byalyatski, the head of Viasna Human Rights Center, also remains imprisoned after being convicted to a 4 1/2 -year jail sentence for trumped-up charges of tax evasion. These are two of 12 political prisoners who today remain behind bars under deplorable prison conditions in Belarus.
The general human rights situation in Belarus has not improved since the events of 2010, despite international condemnation and sanctions on the regime. In its 2012 report, Freedom House ranked Belarus as ``not free'' in the categories of civil liberties and political rights, and Belarus ranked 193 out of 197 countries on Freedom House's 2012 press freedom index. The Reporters Without Borders press freedom index ranks Belarus 168 out of 179 countries.
Laws have passed that regulate demonstrations and political information, stifling freedom of assembly. Independent journalists and political activists are under a constant threat of intimidation and arbitrary detention.
Belarus held parliamentary elections on September 23, 2012. Unsurprisingly, the elections failed to meet international standards and were widely condemned as not free or fair. While some democratic opposition parties boycotted the elections, the candidates who did attempt to run were denied registration by election authorities, intimidated, and given unfair access to media resources. No opposition figures were elected to the 110-seat legislature. Official turnout was reported as 74.3 percent, although observers claim the turnout was closer to 30 percent of eligible voters.
Belarus remains mired in its worst financial crisis since independence, which has put Lukashenko under increasing pressure. In the past month, he has reshuffled several top figures in his government and made some controversial economic decisions that have been met with criticism in the international community. This includes signing a presidential decree making it illegal for workers in Belarus' wood processing industry to quit their jobs, and announcing that Belarus would begin shifting its exporting business from ports in the Baltic to Russian ports. This will only strain the relationship between Belarus and its democratic neighbors and increase Russia's stronghold on key Belarusian markets.
Belarus already depends on Russia for nearly all its energy supplies. The United States and the European Union must remain united, impose economic sanctions, and have a single plan for action regarding the promotion of democratic process in Belarus.
So again, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this time coming down, and I wish everybody a Happy New Year.