Press release August 8, 2023
Belarus: Freedom House Stands with Belarusian People, Political Prisoners on Anniversary of Stolen Election
The international community must stand with democratic actors in Belarus and demand justice for the victims of the Lukashenka regime.
WASHINGTON—Ahead of the three-year anniversary of the fraudulent 2020 election in Belarus, which sparked a peaceful, nationwide freedom movement against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz issued the following statement:
“Our hearts are with the people of Belarus as we take stock of the systemic atrocities committed against them by the illegitimate government. While August 9 is a somber anniversary, we honor and take hope from the Belarusian people’s courage and resilience in the face of Lukashenka’s decades of violent repression.
“We stand with those inside Belarus who endure constant harassment and intimidation by the regime, especially the nearly 1,500 Belarusians imprisoned for speaking out against Lukashenka’s abuses and asserting their fundamental freedoms. We unequivocally condemn their politically motivated imprisonment and mistreatment by prison authorities. We will never stop advocating for their release, and we urge democratic governments to continue to publicly and privately pressure Lukashenka to free them all.
“We also stand with the hundreds of thousands of Belarusians forced into exile for championing a better future. We urge democratic donors to provide further assistance to Belarusian civil society, media, and democratic actors, many of whom fled for their safety. These brave individuals’ and organizations’ tireless efforts, including to document the regime’s myriad human rights abuses, are laying the foundation for the free, democratic future of Belarus.
“We demand justice for the victims of Lukashenka’s regime. Democracies should continue to impose targeted, coordinated sanctions on Lukashenka and his kleptocratic enablers—while at the same time increasing efforts to mitigate sanctions evasion. Democratic governments should also support a continued mandate for the UN special rapporteur on Belarus to officially document atrocities in-country.
“Lukashenka’s repression extends beyond the borders of Belarus, particularly affecting the people of Ukraine. In 2022, Lukashenka allowed Russian troops to launch an assault on Kyiv from Belarusian territory, and he routinely allows Russian missiles to be fired from Belarus onto civilian population centers in Ukraine. What’s more, disturbing evidence has recently emerged of the Lukashenka regime’s role in the abduction of Ukrainian children into Russia and Belarus. We urge the international community to prosecute Lukashenka alongside Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for the crime of aggression, and we call upon the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant for his arrest pertaining to his role in the separation of Ukrainian children from their families.”
On August 9, 2020, Belarusians went to the polls in a national presidential election. Public dissatisfaction with Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s authoritarian regime was at an all-time high due to the regime’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its hasty and opaque efforts to integrate into a “union state” with Russia, and its unwillingness to enact reforms. Documented systemic irregularities and civil society monitoring indicate that the regime-publicized election results were fundamentally fraudulent, and the results were met with an immediate public outcry.
Hundreds of thousands of people demanded legitimate elections in an unprecedented wave of peaceful, nationwide protests. These demonstrations were immediately followed by the most brutal crackdown in Belarus’s modern history. Tens of thousands of Belarusians were arrested or detained in the ensuing weeks. Protesters were violently beaten, detainees were often tortured, and citizens were subjected to internet disruptions and other violations of media freedoms. Fearing persecution, hundreds of thousands fled, leaving their families, friends, and possessions behind. Today, nearly 1,500 Belarusians remain behind bars for politically motivated reasons—some since 2020, and all in inhumane conditions. Many prisoners are denied medical treatment and access to lawyers and relatives. Several have died in custody.
Since 2020, Lukashenka has deliberately set out to liquidate independent media and civil society—but he has failed. Despite the rampant, systematic repression against them, over the past three years, Belarusian civil society has remained active and engaged in the dangerous work of documenting human rights atrocities and preserving Belarusian culture and language.
Lukashenka’s close partnership with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has resulted in additional human rights abuses and cause for concern. In 2022, Lukashenka allowed Russian forces to use Belarusian territory as a staging ground for their full-scale invasion of Ukraine, shortening their route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and allowing them to conduct ongoing missile strikes from Belarusian territory. More recently, Lukashenka has also agreed to hold Russian tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, and allegedly helped broker an agreement between Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin—leader of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group—to end Prigozhin’s “march on Moscow.” Since then, the Lukashenka regime has established military encampments to facilitate the relocation of Wagner Group mercenaries to Belarus. Evidence has also emerged suggesting that the Lukashenka regime has aided in the systematic abduction and relocation of Ukrainian children into Russia and Belarus. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Council called Russia's deportation of Ukrainian children a violation of international law.
Belarus is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2023, Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2022, and a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2023. Minsk was also identified as a perpetrator of transnational repression in Defending Democracy in Exile: Understanding and Responding to Transnational Repression.
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
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