From the very morning, the center of Minsk was full of police vehicles and officers. The protesters were planning to gather near the building of the Academy of Sciences, but the police blocked the venue and detained people who managed to get to the place. Mass detentions were all over Independence Avenue.
Human rights defenders
At 12.45 pm local time on 25 March, about an hour before the start of the planned peaceful protests, Minsk-based office of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” was raided by the police.57 persons were detained, but soon released. Most of the detainees were volunteers that were expected to observe protest in central Minsk. Others included international observers, representatives of foreign media and human rights organizations, including Macha Chichtchenkova of Frontline Defenders, as well as the chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak and Viasna’s lawyer Anastasiya Loika.The people were forced to lie on the floor and the place was searched. As a result, however, all the detainees were eventually released.”After we were brought to a gym, they started searching everyone. The policemen then read out the names and released us by threes,” Anastasiya Loika said after her release.One of the detainees, Aliaksei Loika, was taken to the hospital after he was beaten by riot police during the raid.
On 26 March, the police detained around a dozen demonstrators in Minsk’s Kastryčnickaja Square, as they protested against violent dispersal of a peaceful assembly in the city center that was attended by thousands of people. Tatsiana Reviaka, president of the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, was detained along with the protesters. Tatsiana Reviaka was eventually released without charges. “A police van took us to the Centraĺny district police department of Minsk, where we were ordered to stand facing the wall and to raise our hands. Later, I was allowed to keep my hands down. We were kept for more than 3 hours this way. I counted about 20 people, mostly young men. Then they started taking pictures,” the human rights defender said after her release. She also said that a police officer asked her to sign a paper saying that she was administratevly charged. Reviaka refused to do so, since more than three hours had passed since her detention and no one explained what she was accused of.
Human rights defender Siarhei Rusetski was briefly detained in Biaroza. However, he was soon released without charges. Yury Belski, Belarusian Helsinki Committee representative in Polatsk, was detained in Polatsk and released on March 27
Three human rights defenders, Kastus Mardzvintsau (HRC Viasna), Leanid Svetsik (HRC Viasna) and Pavel Levinau (Belarusian Helsinki Committee), were detained in Viciebsk. Pavel Levinov was an observer at the peaceful assemblies held in Vitebsk on 25 and 26 March. He had the appropriate badge and official task from the Republic Human Rights Public Association «Belarusian Helsinki Committee». Pavel Levinau is currently in hospital with hypertensive crisis (high blood pressure). On March 27, 2017, Pavel Levinov and his colleagues will appear before the court. If found guilty as charged, they face an administrative fine or administrative detention. In the case of aggregated sentences, total duration of deprivation of freedom can be up to 25 days.
People: Minsk +Regions
According to latest estimates, around 700 people were detained on 25 March. Most of them were finally released, either without charges or after facing charges of “illegal picketing”. Around 100 protesters spent the night at the police departments to await trails on Monday, March 27. In the period of March 3-24, on the eve of Freedom Day, over 300 activists were detained, including 26 people in ‘mass riots’ case.
On 26 March, the police detained around 40-50 demonstrators in Minsk’s Kastryčnickaja Square, as they protested against violent dispersal of a peaceful assembly in the city center that was attended by thousands of people.
The location of at least 3 persons detained either on 25 or 26 March is not known.
On 25 March, the actions in Hrodna and Brest were sanctioned by the authorities and held without detentions. Unsanctioned demonstrations in Vitebsk and Homiel gathered hundreds of people and ended with detentions of activists; approx. 10 persons were detained in Vitebsk and approx. 13 – in Homiel.
On 26 March, in different cities, the protests were held in solidarity with the detainees the day before. They also ended in the detention of dozens of people. Some of them were released, while others await trial on Monday, March 27, in custody.
In particular, around 30 persons were detained in Babrujsk. Thirteen protesters were detained in Brest. Ryhor Kryvitski, an activist who organized a protest in Mazyr, was detained by the police and charged with violating restrictions on holding mass events. Several people were detained in Orša. A number of opposition activists were detained in Rečyca.
Response from the Belarusian MFA
In an official statement, Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry characterized police actions during March 25th as “absolutely adequate” and justified those actions with the need to prevent bloodshed. MFA pointed out that protests in a number of Belarusian cities took place without any incidents, and invited European politicians to consider police actions during mass protests in their own countries.