Timeline: 20 Years of Human Rights Abuses in Belarus

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Read about the resilience of Belarusian citizens and civil society in a heavily restrictive environment and share their stories with your friends.
See below for an interactive and detailed timeline of human rights abuses in Belarus:


Detailed Timeline

July 10, 1994

Aliaksandr Lukashenka is elected President of the Republic of Belarus. Six candidates ran in the election, which was the first presidential election in Belarus. Results from the first round of voting are as follows: Aliaksandr Lukashenka — 44.82%, Viachaslau Kebich — 17.32%, and Zianon Pazniak — 12.82%. Aliaksandr Lukashenka wins the second round with approximately 80% of the vote.

December 20, 1994

During a session of Parliament, Deputy Sergei Antonchik reads a report out loud that details corruption among President Lukashenka's entourage. A presidential decree prohibits newspapers from printing the report; they print whited-out columns in its place. This incident marks the beginning of the regime's war on freedom of speech.

April 11–12, 1995

President Lukashenka introduces a bill on holding a referendum in favor of broadening his powers, integrating with Russia, replacing the state symbols with those similar to old Soviet ones, and making Russian the second official language. Deputies from the oppositionist BPF Party launch a hunger strike inside Parliament. At night, troops and special police forces move into Parliament, attack the deputies, and throw them out of the building. The following day, pro-Lukashenka deputies approve the decision to hold the referendum.

August 17, 1995

Employees of the Minsk Metro go on strike after appealing to government authorities, prosecutors, and courts about violations by the metro administration to their collective labor and rate agreements. The employees' demands were strictly economic, and they were hoping to cooperate and have a civilized dialogue with government institutions. However, Minsk city authorities refused to meet the strikers halfway; their walkout was violently suppressed and the organizers – 56 train drivers, locksmiths, and electricians – were fired. To ensure normal operation of the metro, Minsk City Hall had to urgently send for a few dozen operators from the Moscow metro to train new personnel. Belarusian politicians now say that the five-day-long strike was the first training ground to develop methods of violently suppressing Minsk street protests.

September 12, 1995

The Belarusian Air Force shoots down a hot air balloon containing two American pilots who flew into Belarusian air space after crossing over from Poland. The balloonists, Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis, died in the two-kilometer fall.

April 26, 1996

The first bloody crackdown of Lukashenka's presidency takes place during an event called Chernobyl Way, held in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. OMON riot police beat dozens of demonstrators, including women and teenagers. Photographs of a bleeding protester in the helm of the Chernobyl standard were published by independent papers in Belarus and Europe. BPF Party opposition leader Zianon Pazniak was forced to leave the country and has lived in exile ever since.

March - May 1996

Mass protests against a union between Belarus and Russia take place in Minsk, later dubbed the Minsk Spring. The continuous protests of tens of thousands of people routinely result in clashes with police, but succeed in forcing the authorities to abandon their plan to unite the two countries.

September 1, 1996

The government shuts down the independent Radio-101.2 station. Subsequently, the 101.2 MHz frequency is given to a pro-presidential youth organization.

November 24, 1996

At the president's initiative, Belarus holds a referendum on a constitutional amendment to continue practicing capital punishment. Following the referendum, the Parliament is dissolved and a regime of unlimited presidential power is established. Because most participants voted against abolishing capital punishment, the authorities regularly cite the referendum results to justify that measure.

July 26, 1997

Journalists Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadski are detained while filming near the Belarus-Lithuanian border and charged with illegally crossing it. They are given a two-year suspended sentence for the “deliberate group violation of a state border” and “exceeding the rights of journalists and causing damage to the interest of the state.” Amnesty International recognized the journalists to be prisoners of conscience.

June - August 1998

Lukashenka nationalizes the Drazdy Complex and closes it for repairs, forcing a number of diplomats to leave the residences they kept there. Many of the diplomats leave Minsk in the scandal that follows.

May 7, 1999

Former Internal Minister Yury Zakharanka – a supporter of the opposition – disappears without a trace in Minsk. A Council of Europe investigation concludes that special police detachments (colloquially, “death squads”) and high-ranking national political leaders were involved in the kidnapping. An official Belarusian federal investigation produces no results and is shut down.

June 2, 1999

An updated criminal code outlaws “insulting the president” and “defaming the president.” These articles are later used to arrest and imprison independent journalists and opposition politicians.

September 16, 1999

Viktar Hanchar, the first vice chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus of the 13th Convocation and chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, and businessman Anatoly Krasouski disappear without a trace in Minsk. They are never been found, dead or alive. According to a Council of Europe investigation, special police detachments (colloquially, “death squads”) and high-ranking national political leaders were involved in the kidnapping. An official Belarusian federal investigation produces no results and is shut down.

October 17, 1999

A Freedom March takes place in Minsk to protest Lukashenka's dictatorship amid violent clashes between marchers and the police.

July 7, 2000

Russian journalist Dmitry Zavadsky from the network ORT is kidnapped en route from downtown Minsk to the airport. Almost two years later, four men are given long prison terms (one of them, the organizer, is given a life sentence) for kidnapping Zavadsky. However, since Zavadsky's body is never found, they are not convicted of his murder – even though digging tools with his blood are found in one of the criminal's cars and is used as evidence in their convictions. Special police detachments (colloquially, “death squads”) are likely involved in the kidnapping.

September 9, 2001

Aliaksandr Lukashenka wins reelection as president with 75.62% of the vote. According to official data, the united opposition’s candidate, Uladzimir Hancharik received only 15% of the vote.

June 27, 2002

The House of Representatives adopt a new revision of the Law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” that reinforces the inequality of religious confessions and places severe restrictions on establishing religious communities.

April 2003

A massive campaign shutting down youth and human rights non-governmental associations by court orders begins in Belarus. During 2003, 51 non-governmental associations are closed and over 800 organizations receive warnings from the Ministry of Justice. On October 28, the Supreme Court shuts down the Viasna Human Rights Center in a ruling on a suit brought by the Ministry of Justice. The campaign continued, and more than 200 organizations were banned from 2003–2007.

June 25, 2003

The Ministry of Education shuts down the National State Humanities Lyceum, the only school in Minsk that only teaches in Belarusian. Later the Lyceum continues its work underground.

June 2004

Deputies from the Republic parliamentary group V. Parfianovich, S. Skrabiec, and V. Frolov go on hunger strike. The parliamentarians are joined by leaders and activists of non-governmental organizations from Minsk and other cities of Belarus. The strikers demanded the democratization of the electoral code and protested President Lukashenka's plans to use a referendum to gain the right to run for a third presidential term.

August 2004

The Belarusian authorities close the European Humanities University in Minsk. The official reason is a failure to be attested by the Ministry of Education. However, President Lukashenka publicly accuses EHU of inculcating Western values and flagitious freethinking. The university is forced to move to neighboring Lithuania and has operated in Vilnius ever since.

October 17, 2004

According to the official results of a parliamentary election and referendum, Lukashenka wins the right to run for president an unlimited number of times. The Western community denounces the election and referendum as rigged and undemocratic. No opposition representatives running in the election win seats in parliament. However, according to Gallup Europe’s Baltic Surveys, no more than 48.4 % of voters supported Lukashenka's decision to run for president for a third time. OMON riot police cracked down on the protests that followed the election.

August 16, 2005

A criminal investigation is opened against the producers of a cartoon series in which one of the characters resembles President Lukashenka. The series’ creators are forced to flee the country.

December 2, 2005

In the run-up to the presidential election, the House of Representatives adopts an array of “anti-revolutionary” laws that, among other things, criminalize the operation of an unregistered non-governmental or religious organization. The article is later used to sentence at least 18 people to sentences ranging from fines up to one year's imprisonment. The prosecutor's office and KGB warn dozens of members of unregistered organizations that they could be convicted under these laws unless they cancel membership in unregistered organizations.

February 21, 2006

The Belarusian KGB claims to have exposed a plot to destabilize the country. Four activists of the unregistered organization Partnerstvo (Partnership) engaged in independent presidential election observation. Later they are convicted of operating an unregistered organization.

March 19–24, 2006

Protests alleging falsifications during the presidential election take place in Minsk. According to official data, Aliaksandr Lukashenka won the election with 83% of the vote (the Central Electoral Commission figures give the democratic opposition's candidate, Aliaksandr Milinkievich, only 6.2 %). Protesters set up a camp site in the center of the city; police break it up on the night of March 24. In total, over a thousand people are arrested during the election campaign. One of the two opposition candidates is beaten and sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

September 7, 2007

Youth of BPNF activist Zmitser Zhaleznichenka is expelled from Homel University. He is drafted immediately following his expulsion. Thus, the authorities added a new means of pressure to their traditional tactic of expelling opposition supporters from universities. Subsequently, in 2008–2010, many young opposition activists were drafted after being expelled.

January 10, 2008

Entrepreneurs stage mass protests against government pressure on business in Minsk. Dozens of participants are arrested; 14 are prosecuted.

December 3, 2009

Young Front Press Secretary Tatsiana Shaputka is expelled from the law school at Belarus State University after taking part in the Eastern Partnership Civil Forum in Brussels on November 16–17.

February 1, 2010

President Lukashenka signs Decree No. 60, significantly restricting online speech.

December 19, 2010

Police break up a peaceful protest against rigged presidential elections in Minsk. According to official data, Lukashenka garners 79% of the vote. Seven out of 9 opposition candidates are arrested, many are beaten and tortured, and four are sentenced to various prison terms. In total, about one thousand demonstrators are arrested and dozens of raids are carried out in the offices and apartments of opposition parties, human rights organizations, newspapers, journalists, politicians, and members of non-governmental organizations.

March 3, 2011

A blacklist is leaked that details foreign musicians and actors who are prohibited from entering Belarus or being broadcast on public television or radio. Bands listed include Lyapis Trubetskoy, DDT, Naive, Tarakany, Sid frontman Dmitry Spirin, and the Pet Shop Boys and their frontman Neil Tennant. Russian authors banned include Andrei Bitov, Boris Vasilyev, Victor Yerofeyev, Leonid Zhukhovitskiy, and Eduard Uspensky. The list also includes actors who participated in the Global Artistic Campaign for Solidarity with Belarus, such as Kevin Spacey, Jude Law, and Kevin Kline, and British playwright Tom Stoppard.

March - May 2011

Demonstrators who protested the last presidential election go on trial in Minsk. In total, over 50 people are sentenced on charges of engaging in mass disorder and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment or other restraint. At present, two of them remain in jail – former presidential candidate Mikolai Statkevich and Young Front activist Eduard Lobau.

July - June 2011

A series of “silent protests” are organized over the Internet in Minsk and dozens of other cities in the country, in which Belarusian citizens gather in the streets but do not shout any slogans or display any signs (later, they would clap). During two months, approximately 1,500 protesters are arrested. Subsequently, state authorities adopted amendments to the law on mass disorder that banned mass actions “in the form of inaction” and criminalized to calls for joint action via the Internet without official permission.

October 3, 2011

Amendments are made to the Belarusian criminal code and other legislation that further restricts the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech. Criminal sanctions are established for violating procedures for obtaining foreign non-refundable aid. The definition of high treason is expanded significantly.

October 3, 2011

Belarus’s annual Business Internet conference publishes a blacklist of Belarusian websites with limited access from government agencies and institutions of culture and education. The blacklist includes the Prokopovich online currency exchange service, Yauhen Lipkovich's Live Journal blog, the websites for Charter 97, Belarus Partisan, and the Viasna Human Rights Center, as well as 20 pornographic and extremist websites.

August 4, 2011

The leader of the banned Viasna Human Rights Center, Ales Bialiatski, is arrested. He is charged under Belarusian Criminal Code Part 2, Article 243: “the concealment of income in an especially large amount.” The funds referred to were intended to be used to help run the human rights organization. He was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. The formal grounds for Bialiatski’s criminal prosecution were information about accounts he held in foreign banks, handed over to the Belarusian authorities by the Ministry of Justice of Lithuania and General Public Prosecutor's Office of Poland. Lithuanian and Polish officials later publicly apologized to Bialiatski and his family and suspended discussions with Belarus on legal aid contracts. Belarusian and international human rights structures, the leadership of the European Union, the United States, and other democratic countries continue to demand Bialiatski’s release.

February - May 2012

Several human rights defenders and civil society activists are banned from leaving Belarus, including non-governmental Belarusian Association of Journalists head Zhanna Litvina, Belarusian Helsinki Committee National Human Rights Public Association leaders Aleh Hulak and Gary Paganiailo, and Viasna Human Rights Center deputy head Valiantsin Stefanovich. Also worth mentioning is the case of Alexei Pikulik, director of the Lithuanian-registered Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, whose passport was impounded on a supposed suspicion of being fake. Due to the lengthy investigation that followed (more than 3 months), he was unable to take part in a number of international events. He was also placed under administrative arrest on charges of disorderly conduct based on false police testimony.

June 21, 2012

Journalist and blogger Andrzej Poczobut is arrested in his home in Hrodna; charges are filed against him for repeatedly “defaming the president.” The official grounds for the case were Poczobut's publications on the websites of Belarus Partisan and Charter 97, both of which are popular online resources that users in most government agencies and educational and cultural  institutions are banned from accessing. Complicating the situation, Poczobut had already been arraigned at the time on another charge of defaming the president and was sentenced to 3 years in prison with 2 years' suspension. He was released on June 30 on his own recognizance. Nearly a year later, the second set of charges against him were dismissed due to lack of evidence of a crime.

July 4, 2012

A criminal case against student photojournalist Anton Suryapin's draws a strong public response. Suryapin was the first to publish photographs on his website of teddy bears being airdropped over a city on the outskirts of Minsk by employees of the Swedish company Studio Total after illegally flying across the Belarusian border. The teddy bears were attached to small signs reading “free speech now” and “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech.” On July 13, police searched Suryapin’s apartment, seized his computer and camera, and brought him into custody. The journalist was detained for over a month. His lawyer was prohibited from discussing either the investigation or status of proceedings against Suryapin with either the journalist’s family or the press. The Belarusian KGB did not announce charges against Suryapin for complicity in an illegal border crossing until mid-August. He was finally released under his own recognizance on August 17, after Belarusian civil society, the international community, and journalist and human rights organizations spoke out in his defense.

November 8, 2012

Courts begin to enforce federal amendments that were passed in 2011 to broaden the definition of high treason. Andrei Haidukou, an activist in the oppositionist Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, is arrested. He is found guilty the following July of trying to establish contact with the CIA. A closed court sentences him to 1.5 years in a penal colony.

December 7, 2012

Presidential Decree No. 9, “On Additional Measures to Develop the Woodworking Industry,” introduces regulations similar to slave labor. In particular, workers in the timber industry are prohibited from quitting their jobs.

April 18, 2013

The Oshmiansky District Court rules that Belarus Press Photo albums contain extremist materials; they are confiscated by Belarusian customs officials on their way from Lithuania. Belarus Press Photo is a prestigious annual press photography contest founded in 2009 by Belarusian photojournalists. Winning submissions are exhibited far beyond the borders of that country. All materials seized by the authorities are eventually destroyed.

May 18, 2013

Police raid a production by Belarus Free Theatre, an unregistered, independent group that stages secret performances in private venues, much to the chagrin of state authorities. The police record passport data of all members of the audience and cast. However, both uniformed and plainclothes police refused to present identification. Belarus Free Theater actors continue to be subject to similar harassment on a regular basis.

August 2013

Igor Ptichkin dies in a Minsk pre-trial detention facility, where he was placed on charges of illegal driving. He had been sentenced to three months' arrest, but died on his third day in the pre-trial detention. Human rights advocates and Ptichkin’s family allege that his death was caused by torture and other physical abuse. As a result of public pressure and mass protests staged outside the prison, the Prosecutor's Office is forced to initiate a criminal case against the guards responsible for the murder.

August 17, 2013

Iryna Biynik, the organizer of a mass bicycle ride called “Hipsters on Bikes,” is fined for staging an unauthorized mass event.

November 24, 2013

Police raid a cultural center during a screening of a film about the participants of the 1920 Slutsk anti-Bolshevik uprising.

January 9, 2014

Leonid Autukhou, a Haradok activist from the BPF Party, is detained on false charges. The Haradok District Internal Affairs Department presents him with a letter signed by “Anonymous” alleging that he was organizing a protest. Autukhou was held in custody for three hours until the Oblast administration officers left.

January 25, 2014

Plainclothes police arrest two Food Not Bombs activists and five homeless people in the Simon Bolivar mini park in Minsk. The officers fingerprint the detainees and record their passport data. Food Not Bombs is a global movement comprised of independent activist groups that protest militarism and poverty by distributing free meals (usually vegetarian) to the poor.

February - March 2014

Candidates campaign in local municipal elections across Belarus. As is typical, opposition party members are arrested, rallies are banned, and fliers are seized during the campaign.    

March 17, 2014

United Civic Party leader Anatoly Liabedzka is sentenced to 15 days arrest for pre-election picketing as part of his campaign for local council deputy. The court ruled that the slogans opposing a possible war in Crimea violate campaign procedures.