Net silence as Belarus explodes into protest

Minsk protest

Long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko has cut off internet across most of Belarus as the country explodes into angry protests in the wake of contested presidential elections. Riot police are unleashing harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water hoses against demonstrators in Minsk. One person has been reported killed and many more wounded, including several police officers. According to preliminary results, Lukashenko won an unlikely 80% of the vote in the Aug. 9 election, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya taking only 10%. Tikhanovskaya was a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. (Politico, The Guardian, Meduza)

Ironically, Lukashenko has this time pointed to Russia rather than the West as scheming to subvert his rule. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko last year agreed to merge their two countries in a “Union State” with a joint parliament, seen as a step toward rebuilding the empire. But no sooner was the deal announced than the two strongmen started spatting over who would be top dog. “Russia is a part of Belarus,” Lukashenko even quipped as the deal started to disintegrate in December.

In the lead-up to the election, Lukashenko’s security forces¬†reportedly arrested dozens of Russian mercenaries, claiming that hundreds of¬†fighters had infiltrated¬†the country to destabilize the regime. The state media said the mercenaries worked for Wagner Group, Russia’s best-known private military contractor. (Al Jazeera,¬†Moscow Times, UA Wire)

Photo: Meduza

  1. Strikes spread in Belarus

    Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has now fled to Lithuania,¬†issued a call¬†for continued peaceful mobilization to force Lukashenko from power. “Don’t stay on the sidelines,”¬†she said, proposing a broad council to work on the transfer of power. (BBC News)¬†Over the past days,¬†strikes have escalated¬†across the country. In Minsk,¬†trolleybus drivers went on strike¬†in protest at the detention of one of their colleagues at a protest. Workers at a sugar factory in Zhabinka have¬†gone on strike, as have engineers at the¬†Minsk tractor factory. (Global Voices)

  2. EU rejects Belarus election results

    Members of the European Council voted Aug. 19 not to recognize Belarus‚Äô election results where President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in a landslide victory. The EU will also impose sanctions against “a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results.” (Jurist)

  3. UN rights office urges Belarus to end abuse of protestors

    The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Belarus on Sept. 1 to end the torture of protestors and enforced disappearances after they received more than 450 documented reports of torture and mistreatment of persons in custody since the Aug. 9 election. (Jurist)

  4. Belarus opposition leader ‘disappeared’

    A leading opposition figure in Belarus has gone missing, shortly after witnesses said she was bundled by masked men into a minibus in Minsk.¬†Maria Kolesnikova’s whereabouts are unknown. Police have denied detaining her, the Interfax news agency reports.¬†

    Kolesnikova is a member of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to oversee a transfer of power. Government authorities have launched a criminal case against opposition leaders, saying the “creation and activity of the Co-ordination Council are aimed at seizure of state power, and at harming national security.” (BBC News)

  5. Belarus: another opposition leader ‘disappeared’

    One of the last leading members of the opposition¬†Coordination Council who remained free, attorney Maxim Znak, was taken out of the council’s¬†office by unidentified men in ski masks. Znak only had time to text message “masks”¬†before they took the phone away from him, his colleagues said. Unidentified men also tried to enter the apartment of writer Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature and now the only member of the council’s¬†executive presidium still free in Belarus. (AP)

  6. UNHRC adopts resolution on human rights situation in Belarus

    The UN Human Rights Council on Sept. 18 adopted a resolution, calling upon the Belarusian authorities to enter into a dialogue with the political opposition. The resolution expressed serious concern regarding rights violations committed in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath, including numerous acts of torture; enforced disappearance; abduction and arbitrary detention; sexual and gender-based violence; and arbitrary deprivation of life. (Jurist)

  7. EU rejects Lukashenko’s new mandate

    The EU announced it does not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as the president of Belarus, a day after he was sworn in for a sixth term at a secret ceremony.¬†EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell¬†said the unannounced inauguration, as well as his disputed re-election last month, lacked “any democratic legitimacy.” (BBC News)

  8. Russian troops to Belarus

    Russian paratroopers parachuted into Belarus on Sept. 23 as part of joint military drills. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that 900 Russians were taking part in the drills, as well as 100 separate items of military equipment. (Reuters)

  9. Weekly protests continue in Belarus

    Viasna, a non-governmental human rights group in Belarus, said that seven more people were detained in Belarus on Dec. 27 during the ongoing weekend protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, who won his sixth term in office in a disputed election. 

    According to a local source, this past weekend marked the 141st day of mass protests against Lukashenko, which have occurred every weekend since he claimed victory in an Aug. 9 election that gave him a landslide win over his popular opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. (Jurist)

  10. Mass arrests as Belarus crackdown widens

    Law enforcement officials in Belarus carried out a nationwide wave of raids targeting human rights defenders and journalists on Feb. 16, rounding up at least 40 people and searching their homes and offices. Many of those targeted have documented or reported on ongoing mass protests or provided assistance to people in custody on politically motivated charges and to their families.

    The Belarusian Investigative Committee, the agency responsible for criminal investigations, stated that the searches had targeted groups “positioning themselves as human rights organizations,”¬†with¬†the stated purpose¬†of “establishing the circumstances of the financing of the protests.”¬†The raids are part of a criminal investigation under art. 342 of the Belarus Criminal –°ode, “organization and/or participation in activities that grossly violate public order,” the agency said.

    “These raids are part of a blatant intimidation campaign,”¬†said¬†Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Belarusian authorities are targeting human rights defenders and independent journalists, apparently trying to eviscerate what‚Äôs left of Belarus‚Äô civil society.”

    The raids took place a week before the Feb. 22 start of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the crackdown in Belarus in the wake of the August 2020 presidential election is on the agenda. (HRW)

  11. Belarus: opposition leader Tikhanovsky imprisoned for 18 years

    A Belarusian court sentenced Sergei Tikhanovsky, a dissident blogger and husband of exiled fellow opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, to 18 years in prison.

    Tikhanovsky‚Äôs sentence is the harshest handed out in the crackdown on the protest movement sparked by last year‚Äôs stolen presidential election. He was found guilty of organizing riots and “incitement to social hatred.”¬†

    Five of his supporters were also given prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years. The sentencing took place behind closed doors.

    “The very existence of these people is a crime for the regime. They’re repressed for the wish to live in free Belarus,”¬†Tikhanovskaya tweeted after the verdict, adding: “The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents. While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence.”¬†(Politico)

  12. Belarus opposition leader condemns her trial in absentia

    Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Jan. 17¬†condemned the ongoing trial in absentia against her and other opposition figures, calling it “revenge by a pathetic dictator who lost power & tries to take revenge on all who stood up for freedom.” Tikhanovskaya faces a litany of charges including high treason, “conspiracy to seize power”¬†and creating and leading an extremist organization. (Jurist, AFP)