Elections in Belarus: the repression continues

Press release
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The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) condemns the serious human rights violations perpetrated as part of the electoral process in Belarus.

FIDH has been informed that, on the night of 24 March 2006, president Lukashenko started a repression operation against demonstrators gathered peacefully in October Square in Minsk.

At 3:40 am, the Belarussian police encircled between 300 and 400 demonstrators who had been camping on the square since 19 March to protest against the rigging that marred the presidential ballot. All the tents were destroyed bar one, which was shown on the official television with pornographic newspapers, drugs and vodka inside. An independent journalist, who witnessed the facts, saw policemen place these objects in the tent. The demonstrators were taken away during the night in buses and cars to detention centres. The minors were released on the morning of 24 March. Legal proceedings against the adults are due to start during the day.

FIDH is extremely concerned about the detainees’ fate. It calls that the head of the KGB Stepan Suharenko, had declared on 16 March, even before the elections were held, that opponents were preparing a coup d’etat and that those who demonstrated against the election results would be treated “as terrorists.”

FIDH had already reacted to massive human rights violations perpetrated as part of the electoral campaign: arresting of opponents, State propaganda, blocking of media access for opposition candidates. The running of the ballot was condemned by observers, and notably the use of pre-marked ballots and mobile ballot boxes not under public control. The Gallup/Baltic Surveys organisation, which was getting ready to organise “exit polls” was victim of acts of intimidation. The official election results (83% for Lukashenko, 6% for his opponent Milinkevich) have been contested by all independent observers, especially those from the OSCE and the European Parliament’s ad hoc delegation.

Several regional leaders of the opposition parties were arrested by police on 19 March in Vitebsk, Mogilev and Brest. To this day, 9 official representatives of the main opposition candidate, Milinkevich, are being held. Protest rallies were organised on the days following the elections. According to information received, over 450 people are said to be victims of human rights violations (arbitrary arrests and retentions, mistreatment, sentences of 10 to 15 days of disciplinary detention). As an example, 50 people were arrested on 20 and 21 March for participating in a peaceful demonstration. On 22 March, Brest police condemned Vladimir Velichkin, human rights defender, to 7 days’ imprisonment for “disobeying the forces of order” just when he should have been freed following 5 days’ imprisonment for “using obscene language in a public place.” On 21 March, the chief editor of the Nasa Niva magazine was condemned to 10 days’ imprisonment for “disorderly conduct.” Since 22 March, police have been detaining Siarhei Satsuk and Siarhei Salash, two members of the opposition candidate Milinkevich’s support group, in an undisclosed place. They were arrested by men in civilian clothing and their families have not received any news since. It does not seem to be an isolated situation: the fate of many people arrested since 19 March in fact remains unknown.

The OSCE has condemned the running of the elections which did not respect international electoral standards and has mentioned, among other things, “the arbitrary use of State power and widespread detentions.” The OSCE refers to disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, strongly condemned the human rights violations perpetrated before, during and after the elections. The European Union has declared that it is in favour of adopting sanctions against Belarus. “The presidential poll was everything but free or fair,” declared Hans-Gert Poettering, member of the European Parliament.

FIDH calls on the Belarussian government to put an immediate end to all forms of repression against those who exercise their freedom of expression and right to peaceful demonstration and to carry out an inquiry regarding the fraud and irregularities observed and listed during the elections. FIDH calls on the government to respect its regional and international commitments in the field of human rights.

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