End of "liberalization" in Belarus
„The Belarusian election was severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restrictions on basic rights“, - stated OSCE. Even more saddening was the authorities’ tactics to address opposition’s protests after the closure of polling stations on 19 December evening: hundreds of people were arrested not only on Independence Square in Minsk, but also at their homes and offices, making many recall the notorious year 1937 in the USSR.
Monday, 27 December 2010
Up to seven out of nine former alternative presidential candidates ended up in detention, accompanied by some 630 journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters.
The authorities presented the purge as a move to stop the protesters from attacking the House of the Government, as some of demonstrators attempted to break into the building – a move unsupported by the crowd and widely considered to have been orchestrated by the security services to justify the crackdown.
Many “trouble-makers” were detained prior to the unsanctioned rally or in the night after it. Offices of numerous independent mass-medias were attacked on 19-20 December night, staff arrested and equipment seized.
Dozens of protesters of both genders, including minors and seniors, were injured, some are missing.
Marking the end of the so-called “liberalization”, the President Lukashenka promised during his press-conference on Monday 20 December: “No more foolish democracy in this country”.
“De facto usurpation of power”
At the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, the findings of non-partisan election observation were presented on 21 December.
The briefing was organized within a project “Election Observation: Theory and Practice”. The project is run by the Belarusian HRH together with three more partner organizations: the European Humanities University (EHU), the Swedish International Liberal Center (Silc) and Belarus Watch (ByWatch).
“What happened in Belarus is the de facto usurpation of power”, - stated Tatsiana Chulitskaya, a political scientist of the EHU during the event attended by Lithuanian and local Belarusian media as well as numerous members of the diplomatic corps.
The project was a part of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”. However, Ales Bialiatski, a well-known Belarusian human rights defender (“Viasna”), noted that due to the repressive events following the polls, the initiative “ended up as a campaign to protect the repressed people in Belarus”.
New political prisoners to come?
23 high-profile opposition figures and journalists have been charged with organization of “riots” under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (list below).
They are facing a threat of being sentenced for up to 15 years imprisonment.
Some have avoided turning into new political prisoners. Yaraslau Ramanchuk, a former presidential candidate, is one of those still at large. However, according to his blog, Ramanchuk paid a price for it following a “conversation” with unknown individuals in the night after the elections and condemning the “opposition-inspired riots” in front of three state television cameras on 20 December morning. Many believe Ramanchuk was intimidated by the KGB and forced to present the statement, thus becoming a “traitor” for his former fellows.
Students on the frontline
Numerous human rights organizations, including the Human Rights House Foundation (Norway), the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile (Lithuania), Civil Belarus (Czech Republic) Belarus (Czech Republic), Belarus Watch (Lithuania) addressed Belarusian President Lukashenka with a letter, condemning the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, detentions and battery of journalists, human rights defenders and opposition candidates during the 19 December post-election rally in Minsk.
The human rights defenders expressed their deep concern over the detention of a number of students and teachers of the Vilnius-based European Humanities University.
They called upon the Belarusian authorities to promptly release all the EHU students and teachers, detained by Belarusian law-enforcement agencies, to provide access to professional medical aid and to secure free use of political and civil rights by the citizens of Belarus.
Nevertheless, hundreds of detainees have already been charged and sentenced, mostly to administrative arrests for 10 to 15 days in prison. Many have spent Christmas behind the bars.
Christmas? KGB couldn‘t care less
Despite Christmas, Belarusian law-enforcement agencies keep raiding opposition offices and apartments of civil and political activists, adding to the increasing atmosphere of fear in the society.
Dozens of apartments and offices have been searched by the police and the KGB across Belarus today, including those of former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich’s wife, Charter ’97 editor Natallia Radzina’s mother, Iryna Khalip’s father and pro-democratic activist Viachaslau Siuchyk.
At about 12.00 Maladziečna KGB searched the private apartment of local human rights defender Aliaksei Kaputski. Later they searched his office.
Apart from that, Minsk KGB searched the private apartment of human rights activist Aleh Vouchak.
Along with human rights community, mass-media are suffering the persecution too.
„Dear visitors, all our workers have been detained, so our website is going to work not so dynamically as usual, we hope, temporarily“, - these were the words the Charter97.org, the most popular pro-opposition news website, welcomed the users on 20 December.
The state security agents also broke into the office of Belsat independent TV Channel in Minsk on December 26, 2010. They used an electric saw to open the door. The office got sealed.
Several independent websites and social media were blocked on the election day.
On 20 December 2010 the Board of the Belarusian Association of Journalists adopted a statement of protest against “shocking fact of severe force used by the police against journalists and civil activists in the evening of 19 December.”
According to BAJ information, at least 20 journalists were detained 19 December; 20 more reporters were beaten by the police (find the list of the detained / injured journalists here).
„The authorities of the country used such a brutal way to show their absolute disrespect to basic civil and professional rights“, - stated BAJ, demanding „immediate investigation of all the cases of violence against journalists and interference in their professional activity as well as calling of those in charge to account.”
1. Uladzimir Niakliayeu - presidential candidate
2. Andrei Sannikau - presidential candidate
3. Ryhor Kastusiou - presidential candidate
4. Aliaksandr Atroshchankau - Press-Secretary of Sannikau's election HQ
5. Ales Mikhalevich - presidential candidate
6. Vital Rymasheuski - presidential candidate
7. Pavel Seviarynets - Rymasheuski's election agent
8. Dzmitry Bandarenka - coordinator of the "European Belarus" campaign
9. Iryna Khalip - journalist, Andrei Sannikau's wife
10. Natallia Radzina - journalist, editor of the charter97.org web-site
11. Anatol Liabedzka - UCP Chair
12. Anastasia Palazhanka - "Young Front" Vice-Chair
13. Andrei Dzmitryeu - head of Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu's election HQ
14. Tatsiana Skakal - Andrei Dzmitryeu's civil wife
15. Aliaksandr Fiaduta - political analyst, one of the coordinators of Uladzimir Niakliayeu's election HQ
16. Mikalai Statkevich - presidential candidate
17. Aliaksandr Klaskouski - former police officer
18. Uladzimir Kobets - head of Anderj Sannikau's election HQ
19. Dmitry Us, presidential candidate
20. Siarhei Vazniak, Uladzimir Niakliayeu's election agent
21. Aliaksandr Arastovich, Mikalai Statkevich's election agent
22. Anatol Paulau, Yaraslau Ramanchuk's election agent
23. Siarhei Martsaleu, head of Mikalai Statkevich's election HQ
Lukashenko the Loser
Belarusian election severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restrictions on basic rights
Lists of Journalists and BAJ members Beaten and Detained in Minsk
Findings of non-partisan election observation, Belarus
Exit polls around Europe in support for free elections in Belarus