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Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2020

(September 2, 2020)


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  • on August 9, the Belarusian presidential election culminated in Election Day, which took place against the background of continuous repressions, an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in society;
  • the electoral process did not meet international standards for free and democratic elections. The elections were marred by numerous violations and falsifications, which does not allow to consider the results announced by the CEC as a real reflection of the will of the citizens of Belarus;
  • distrust of the official election results led to mass spontaneous peaceful protests, both in Minsk, the capital, and in other cities across the country;
  • attempts by special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to use disproportionate physical force, riot gear and weapons (non-lethal, stun grenades and rubber bullets, and lethal ones) to disperse the assemblies resulted in numerous injuries to the participants. At least three protesters were killed as a result of the use of weapons or failure to provide timely medical care;
  • during the month, more than 7,500 citizens were detained for participating in peaceful protests. The large number of detainees after Election Day led to an overload of the MIA system, as a result of which for several days it was unable to provide information about the whereabouts of thousands of detainees to their families;
  • A particularly negative reaction by both Belarusian and international public was prompted by the widespread use of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment against detainees. At the moment, at least 500 cases of torture have been recorded and documented by the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, which testify to their pervasive and systematic use;
  • dozens of journalists were persecuted by the authorities for their professional activities. They were repeatedly detained, beaten, deprived of accreditation and deported from Belarus. In several cases, weapons were used against reporters. Widespread censorship was imposed in the country: access to many news sites, sites of civil society, including human rights organizations, was blocked; access to the Internet is periodically disrupted;
  • the number of political prisoners increased sharply during the month. At present, there are 41 political prisoners in detention. Their persecution was condemned by the Belarusian human rights community;
  • from a comprehensive perspective, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” deplores the existence of a deep human rights crisis in the country, which affects almost every aspect of civil and political rights. The crisis has led to gross violations of the rights of thousands of citizens and requires immediate settlement, including with the intervention of international organizations.

Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution

Prosecution of citizens has become one of the main types of repression used by the Belarusian authorities during the acute human rights crisis, which began in the post-election period.

As a result of attempts by law enforcement agencies to forcibly suppress mostly peaceful spontaneous protests in the period from 9 to 12 August, the Investigative Committee opened criminal proceedings under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots) against more than eighty citizens.

Experts of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” disagree with the qualification of the demonstrations as mass riots, since the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code — arson, destruction of property, or armed resistance to police officers.

According to the experts, isolated cases of violence against police officers and soldiers of the Interior Ministry should be classified in each case separately, taking into account the context of such violence, including in the context of self-defense against disproportionate use of violence by Interior Ministry officers.

The human rights crisis has led to a sharp increase in the number of political prisoners in the country.

While before the election on August 9 there were 24 political prisoners in Belarus recognized as such by the Belarusian human rights community, in the post-election period their number increased to 41.

During the first days after the election, numerous people were arrested throughout the country, including activists of the election headquarters of presidential nominee Viktar Babaryka and the initiative of civic election observation “Chestnye Lyudi” (“Honest People”). Some of them were subsequently charged under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and detained before trial. These people were later recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights community.

On August 20, one of the leaders of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, Pavel Seviarynets, who had served 75 days of administrative detention, was transferred to a pre-trial detention center as a isolated: some were sent to serve earlier administrative penalties, while others were arrested on trumped-up charges.

On August 4, in Salihorsk, a campaign rally of presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was unexpectedly canceled. Some of the people who came to the rally were detained by the police. Of the 20 detainees, two were sentenced to short terms of detention, and the rest were fined.

On August 7, participants of traditional solidarity bicycle rallies were detained in Minsk; riot police and internal troops took part in the detentions.

Activists were tried across the country on the same day. In two of the hearings, Judges Yulia Hustyr and Viktoriya Shabunia sentenced Kiryl Halanau and Uladzislau Sakalouski, DJs who played the song “Peremen!” (“[We Want] Change!”) at a government-organized rally on August 6, to 10 days of detention each. During the arrest, Halanau and Sakalouski were ill-treated, and after their release, they were pressured by the Interior Ministry.

On August 9, after polls closed in many cities, citizens took to the streets to protest election fraud demanding a fair vote count. The protests continued in the following days. Despite the mostly peaceful nature of the protests, disproportionate physical force, riot gear and, for the first time in the history of Belarus, weapons (stun grenades, rubber bullets and in some cases combat weapon) were used against the demonstrators, as well as against random people who came into contact with the security forces. Officers of special units detained hundreds of protesters, including people wearing clothes or carrying insignia affiliated with the democratic candidates, national white-red-white symbols, as well as those with photos of ballots, voting protocols and subscriptions to protest channels and groups on social media in the memory of their mobile phones. In addition, numerous bystanders were detained. On August 10, human rights activists called on the authorities to end detentions and to refrain from using violence and riot gear against civilians.

In the first night of the protests alone, more than 3,000 people were detained, according to the Interior Ministry; for the first three days – more than 6,000 people. Another 700 people were detained on August 12. Human rights activists have every reason to believe that the figures are incomplete. Detentions were carried out in almost all cities of the country.

The Ministry of Health said that a little more than 200 people were admitted to hospitals with injuries during the two days of the protests, and several needed surgery.

As early as August 11, there were indications that peaceful demonstrators and bystanders were subjected to unprecedented violence and torture: police and other special forces beat detainees after detention, in police vehicles, in police stations and in other facilities run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which were used for the accumulation and accommodation of detainees, as well as in places of detention: detention centers and prisons. Almost all those detained and arrested became victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, to one degree or another. The crimes were committed by masked and unmarked officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and special forces. Acts of ill-treatment were widespread and systemic. Interior Ministry officials confirmed, with varying degrees of certainty, that the violence was not an excess of individual employees, but was planned in advance in response to the protests.

Interior Minister Yury Karayeu said in an interview that he controlled his subordinates, and their aggression was a response to the violence against their colleagues; he also threatened to “respond with lawlessness” to the harassment of his subordinates. Karayeu confirmed that some of the detainees did not face charges, which is evidence of the arbitrary nature of these detentions. Thus, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not condemn the use of torture by his subordinates.

Deputy Interior Minister Aliaksandr Barsukou hypocritically denied any ill-treatment of the detainees and claimed that he had spoken to each of them on the night the beaten people were released from the Center for the Confinement of Offenders in Minsk (August 14).

Regular police officers were also involved in the crimes, who either actively assisted special forces in carrying out torture and ill-treatment, or by their criminal inaction.

Judges of district courts conducted hundreds of carbon-copy administrative hearings, in which detainees were deprived of all procedural rights and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Given the apparent nature and process of torture, in particular inside the Center for the Confinement of Offenders, it is necessary to conduct an appropriate analysis and evaluate the actions of a number of judges not only in terms of failure to provide procedural guarantees, but also in terms of evidence of crimes against justice and crimes against the security of humanity.

By the end of the month, no criminal proceedings had been instituted against officers of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defense for any of the allegations filed with the Investigative Committee bearing ample evidence of bodily injuries. Human rights activists widespread and targeted persecution: reporters working with independent media outlets were detained, subjected to ill-treatment in detention, and several journalists were beaten and wounded by special services.

On 13 August, the leading human rights organizations of Belarus International and human rights organizations and networks issued statements condemning the ill-treatment of peaceful demonstrators and calling for a proper investigation.

The shocking evidence of police-related torture and violence prompted a powerful movement of sympathy and solidarity in society, as well as numerous initiatives offering assistance to the victims.

Repression of civil society has been accompanied by attacks on independent sources of information, blocking of independent websites, and periodic disruption of the Internet or a sharp reduction in the capacity of operators. The state printing houses disrupted the publication of several issues of the newspapers Narodnaya Volya, Belgazeta and Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi.

Despite the incessant detentions of demonstrators and strike activists, thousands of protesters continue to regularly gather in Minsk and other cities of the country. In the last week of August, more than 400 people were  More on this on the website of the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ here

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