Restrictions on the Political and Civil Rights of Citizens Following the 2010 Presidential Election
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On July 12, FIDH representatives hold a press conference in Minsk to present the fact-finding mission report on the situation in Belarus. Participants in the Mission collected dozens of witness testimonies from candidates for the presidency of Belarus and representatives from campaign headquarters for presidential candidates, who had been freed from detention by that time, relatives of those arrested, attorneys, members of human rights organizations, journalists, and representatives of European diplomatic missions.
The wave of repression that followed the presidential elections on December 19, 2010, has lead to a dramatic decline in human rights and civil and political liberties in Belarus, while the level, the duration, and the sheer amount of repression are cause for particular concern.
The mass administrative detentions and arrests conducted on December 19-20, were characterized by their wanton use of force, interrogations, and by court proceedings conducted with gross violations of procedures, laws, and international standards. Fabricated criminal charges in an environment of complete control of the court system were followed by searches, interrogations, and a campaign of slander and fear against a wide range of civic and political activists. Amidst the constant stream of information about the cruel and degrading treatment, and of torture of detainees, there is practically no civil oversight over the institutions of detention in Belarus. Independent attorneys were also subjected to pressure and repression, while tens of students and citizens were expelled from their places of study or employment because of their civic or political activities.
“Let’s put an end to this... there will not be any more of this senseless democracy”, was how President Lukashenko summed up the situation.
As predicted, while the report was being finalized, the situation further decreased. As of the day of it’s publication, 43 persons were sentenced within the criminal cases which followed the December 19, 2010 (31 for mass riots, 10 for breaking a public order within an organized group and 2 for “hooliganism”). Thirty people were sentenced to prison terms including 3 former presidential candidates (Andrei Sannikau and Dzmitry Uss to 5 years, Mikalai Statkevitch to 6 years); Uladzimir Niakliayeu and Vitaly Rymasheuski were put on probation for two years. The number of defendants in the criminal case following the election is still growing. Most recently, Sviataslau Baranovich was charged with involvement in the December 19 mass riot, and put in custody in the Minsk detention center on June 15, 2011.
Freedom of assembly is literary non-existing. On June 22, 2011, over 400 persons were detained during silent protests across Belarus, including several journalists, foreign nationals and the diplomat David Emtestam, the first secretary of the Swedish embassy in Belarus. Some of the detainees were eventually released without charges. Others were beaten and charged with “disorderly conduct”. At least 20 protesters stood trial and were sentenced to fines. Yesterday, June 29, more than 180 people were detained in Minsk during the peaceful protest against the ongoing arbitrariness. More than 30 of them will stand trial today.
Journalists have seen their media closed and face personal harassment. Polish “Gazeta Wyborcza” journalist Andrei Pachobut, who has been detained since April 6, 2011, is currently facing charges for libel and insult of President Lukashenka. The verdict is expected to be pronounced on July 5, 2011. The state prosecutor demanded 3 years of imprisonment.
In April, a large-scale campaign against human rights defenders of the HRC “Viasna”, an FIDH member organization in Belarus, was launched in the mass media. As part of this campaign, Belarussian national television showed programs during prime time hours about the illegality, harmfulness, and moral corruption of their human rights activities, particularly pointing out the role of “Viasna” President and FIDH Vice-President Ales Bialiatsky.
“The dramatic situation in Belarus documented in the FIDH report demands a strong reaction from the international community”, - declared FIDH President Ms. Souhayr Belhassen. “New repressive trends in Belarus are to not let the international organizations enter Belarus to impead them from completing their legitimate and necessary work on human rights monitoring. But the isolation of this country, situated in the heart of Europe, won’t silence critical voices. And Belarussian human rights defenders won’t be left by themselves, which is why we are in Minsk today”.
See also the film “Bitter Winter in Belarus” produced with the video-archives of the mission.