One Year After, the Crackdown Continues in Belarus
On 19 December last year we witnessed thousands of peaceful citizens gathering in central Minsk, protesting the oppression and the stolen presidential elections. That night all hope of progress was shattered as we saw police forces batter the protesters and arresting them by the hundreds. Presidential candidates, opposition leaders, civil society leaders and unorganized citizens were all herded into vans and brought to prison. Thousands fled, running away from soldiers and police beating indiscriminately. Belarusian citizens keep running still a year later.
Ales Bialiatski, leader of the Human Rights Centre Viasna who for years has helped the victims of the regime and in particular those imprisoned, now finds himself convicted to four and a half years of hard regime incarceration. Presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov and Mikalai Statkevich, Dzmitry Bandarenka from Sannikovs campaign team are all in prison. Eduard Lobau, Zmitser Dashkevich and Pavel Seviarynets were all convicted to long prison sentences. They wished to serve and to contribute to a better Belarusian society. For this, they have all been put behind bars after 19 December 2010.
-The opportunity to influence this country has probably never been better, Secretary General Bjørn Engesland of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee says. -Never before has the Belarusian leader faced an economic crisis as the one he faces today, with a collapsing currency, severe material shortages and diminishing hard currency reserves. The crack-down against anyone opposing him is maybe more than anything a sign that he is feeling vulnerable. - Still, European states and institutions seem unable to adopt a coherent and efficient policy towards Belarus. There is an urgent need to do this, and to make sure that the policy is followed through instead of undermined by the individual nation members of the European community. We believe that also Norway could play a more active role in this effort.
- The crackdown against democracy fighters in Belarus since 19 December last year has been unprecedented, even for Belarus. The control over society has tightened even more than before. People are being detained and intimidated; the control of the security services has been strengthened. Independent media are at risk of closure, fines or criminal prosecution. Lawyers defending opposition leaders have been disbarred. OSCE and Special rapporteurs of human rights institutions have been denied access the country, along with international human rights activists.
In Belarusian prisons, political prisoners risk extreme psychological pressure, many have been mistreated and the health of several of the imprisoned has deteriorated. We are very concerned about the health and well-being of Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bandarenka, as well as the health of Dashkevich and Bialiatski. They live under very bad conditions; they have restricted access to families, lawyers and foodparcels. The businessman Mikalai Autukhovich is already a long-serving political prisoner, who has just ended a hunger strike.
Aleksander Lukashenko should not be allowed to continue his attempts at breaking the best of the Belarusian people.
The regime continues the imprisoning anyone considered to oppose Lukashenko. Convicted in the “anarchists' case” we find Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksandr Frantskevich and Ihar Alinevich. Three more were convicted to seven years in prison for petty hooliganism in seriously flawed trials: Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka and Pavel Syramolatou.
As the last country in Europe, Belarus still passes death sentences and now carries them out, too. Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, were convicted for the April 2011 Subway bombings, and sentenced to death on 30 November. There is reason to believe the two men were subject to an unfair trial bereft of evidence of their guilt. The issue has become more urgent and execution in Belarus must stop now.
The authorities of Belarus do what they can to undermine civil society activities. The conviction of Ales Bialiatski is a stark example put in front of others involved in human rights defense. For ten years, Belarusian legislation and other restrictive measures have gradually forced NGO activity underground.
Just recently legal restrictions have been tightened even more. Amendments to criminal legislation and legislation regulating civil society, criminalize keeping funds abroad. Administrative and criminal liability has been established also for receiving foreign donations “in violation of law”, meaning just about anything for a human rights organization in Belarus. The definition of a picket has been redefined to include any pre-planned meetings between three people or more.
-Belarus belongs to Europe, and it is an atrocity against the common values of Europe what is going on in Belarus now, Engesland says. -However, we are certain that this can change very rapidly.
Norway, and a united Europe should
• Insist on the unconditional release of all political prisoners and to restore all civil rights, and as a condition for further dialogue with Lukashenko and his regime, and to stop further arrests and harassment of human rights defenders and activists;
• Step up the engagement with Belarusian civil society and the opposition forces. Until all political prisoners are released, these are the ones you invite for discussions about the future of Belarus as a full member of Europe in preparation of the future in post-Lukashenko Belarus;
• States and Human rights institutions must join forces for a strategy in support of democracy in Belarus and to increase the pressure against the current regime. Rapporteurs of the Assembly and the Council of Europe, together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN special rapporteurs and working groups as well as the OSCE PA could engage in regular cooperation on the situation in Belarus;
• We support sanctions against Belarus and encourage European states to
impose sanctions on even more state-owned enterprises, and to stop pretend it is business as usual. The International Monetary Fund should not be permitted to offer Lukashenka any assistance;
• Be prepared for the changes that are bound to come and do not give up the hope.
For more information contact:
Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General, Mobile: + 47 957 53 350
Berit Lindeman, Head of information, Mobile: +47 909 33 379