Press release August 9, 2022
Belarus: Freedom House Stands with Citizens, Civil Society on Anniversary of Fraudulent Elections, Regime Crackdown
The international community must not abandon ordinary Belarusians or civil society advocates as they work to build a free and democratic nation.
Two years after the Belarusian regime orchestrated a fraudulent presidential election and cracked down on peaceful protests, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to peacefully protest the illegitimate reelection of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a sixth consecutive term in office,” said Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz. “By engaging in mass detentions, severely restricting freedoms of assembly and expression, and employing violence and even torture against its own people, the Lukashenka regime has cemented Belarus’s status as a pariah state. Security forces assaulted and arbitrarily detained thousands of journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens. More than 1,200 remain unjustly imprisoned.
“While this anniversary may be a somber one, it also serves as an opportunity to acknowledge the Belarusian people’s resilience and their unbending commitment to democratic change. Even while operating underground or from abroad, Belarusian civil society monitors Minsk’s abuses, organizes communities, and disrupts the Russian regime’s war against Ukraine, which is partly waged from within Belarusian territory.
“Freedom House stands with the courageous Belarusians who resist ongoing repression, as well as those who have been forced to flee for their safety. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners who remain unjustly held. We seek justice for the victims of the Lukashenka regime and urge the international community to apply additional punitive sanctions and maintain a strategy of nonrecognition.
“We call on the international community to deepen its support for Belarus’s human rights defenders, who persevere in their fight for freedom wherever they are. Finally, we encourage the Belarusian people’s allies to embrace those who fled Lukashenka’s repression and now risk nationality-based discrimination abroad because of Minsk’s role in the war against Ukraine.”
Public dissatisfaction with the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka reached new heights prior to the August 9, 2020, presidential election. Belarusians increasingly disapproved of the regime’s failed COVID-19 response, its hasty and opaque efforts to integrate into a “union state” with Russia, and its unwillingness to enact reforms.
The poll itself was 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 nationwide protests. These demonstrations were immediately followed by the most brutal crackdown in Belarus’s modern history; to date, authorities have arrested or detained over 38,000 people and have committed a wide range of human rights violations. Protesters were violently beaten, detainees were often tortured, and citizens were subjected to internet disruptions and other violations of media freedoms. Fearing persecution, tens of thousands have fled, leaving their families, friends, and possessions behind.
Over the past two years, Belarusian civil society has continued to resist, while the Lukashenka regime has drawn international condemnation. In the later months of 2021, Minsk retaliated against punitive sanctions by orchestrating a humanitarian crisis at its border with European Union member states; it drew tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to the frontier, only for them to face harsh winter conditions. Lukashenka has allowed Russian forces to use Belarusian territory as a staging ground for their ongoing invasion of Ukraine, shortening their route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and allowing them to conduct missile strikes from within Belarusian territory.
Belarus is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2021, and a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2022. 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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