Freedom House Condemns Violence and Arrests of Peaceful Demonstrators in Belarus | Freedom House

Freedom House Condemns Violence and Arrests of Peaceful Demonstrators in Belarus

Washington

Freedom House condemns the violence and arrests on June 29 of more than 150 demonstrators, including 10 journalists, at the “Rallies by Social Networks” protests in Belarus and calls on Belarusian authorities to release all demonstrators immediately.
 
The protests, held in Oktyabr Square and dozens of other cities for the third consecutive Wednesday, were organized online via Facebook and a similar Russian social networking site, VKontakte.  While President Alyasksandr Lukashenka has dismissed the demonstrations as an “online prank” and claims social networking sites are only used by unruly Belarusian teens, authorities have stepped up efforts to suppress the demonstrations. Hundreds have been detained and dozens beaten since the protests began. Today, 30 protesters were sentenced on charges of “hooliganism,” 13 of whom received jail sentences of 6-15 days. The “clapping protests” marked by silence with periodic clapping every two to three minutes—were an effort to avoid the brutal police beatings and arrests from shouting slogans that occurred at past demonstrations.   Authorities reportedly dragged protesters into unmarked vans and beat journalists attempting to film the arrests. There have also been efforts to delete online groups used for mobilizing Belarusians to demonstrate.

“Belarusian authorities’ reaction to these peaceful—virtually silent—protests is appalling and Lukashenka’s effort to pull the wool over our eyes by portraying the demonstrations as ‘youthful pranks’ is fooling no one,” said Susan M. Corke, senior program manager for Eurasia at Freedom House. “Belarusians deserve the right to speak out under any circumstances, using any tool— online or offline— without fear of reprisal. Freedom House expresses its solidarity with the protesters and calls upon Belarusian authorities to immediately release those still detained and to allow peaceful expressions of dissent.”
 
Belarus’s economy is in freefall after Lukashenka raised salaries for public officials in an effort to buy support ahead of last December’s presidential election. This week, Russia cut Belarus’ access to electricity after mounting debt and a slew of unpaid bills. Despite the growing threat of economic collapse and sanctions against the country by the United States and the European Union, Lukashenka has continued to crack down on members of the opposition, civil society and journalists, a number of whom have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or have fled the country. In late May, several opposition leaders, including Andrei Sannikov, Mikalay Statkevich, and Dzmitry Uss, received harsh prison sentences for organizing a large anti-government protest.  Many suspect that Lukashenka and his security services played a role in the Minsk metro bombing on April 11 that killed 14 people and injured 200. 
 
Belarus is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011. It has been ranked by Freedom House as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers since 2004.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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