Belarus: At least 422 detained during the Freedom Day protests

(Paris, Minsk) Lukashenka’s administration continues its crackdown on Belarusian civil society with new arbitrary detentions, as the protests regain momentum this spring. FIDH condemns in the strongest terms the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters on 25 and 27 March and urges the Belarus authorities to stop obstructing Belarus citizens’ exercise of their legitimate right of peaceful assembly.

On Freedom Day, March 25, marking the anniversary of the 1918 proclamation of independence by the Belarusian National Republic, demonstrations reemerged in Belarus with renewed vigour, several months after the waning of peaceful protests triggered by the 2020 presidential election fraud. Reportedly, several hundred protesters took to the streets of Minsk and other cities on 25 and 27 March despite the widespread violence against the opposition and preventive detentions aimed at deterring turnout. Among protesters’ demands were an end to violence, the release of political prisoners, and for all those responsible for human rights violations committed by Lukashenka’s regime to be brought to justice.

The protesters were violently dispersed by the riot police. At the time of writing, FIDH’s member organisation — Viasna Human Rights Centre— has confirmed at least 175 arbitrary detentions following the March 25 protests and 247 more, including five journalists, following Saturday’s protests. As the protesters were spread across the streets and yards and were thus difficult to identify in the absence of a single large gathering, the police indiscriminately detained alleged protesters and passers-by and threw them into police minivans. Some of those detained were subjected to violence and abuse by the police during the arrests. FIDH emphasises that, according to the international human rights standards, the use of unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful protesters constitutes an undue interference with the right of peaceful assembly.

On the eve of the 27 March protests, the Belarus Investigative Committee announced the opening of a criminal case under article 342 of the Criminal Code (“the organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them"). The case targets Telegram channels for the calls to participate in the “unsanctioned assemblies” in an attempt to discredit the protests and minimise the public support for them, in violation of international standards.

Freedom of assembly, including so-called unorganised and unauthorised protests, is a fundamental human right. Along with the closely related rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, it is protected by the Belarusian Constitution and international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. FIDH recalls that United Nations human rights mechanisms have repeatedly highlighted the fact that the legal framework governing assemblies in Belarus does not meet international norms and standards, and have made recommendations thereon.

FIDH has closely monitored the ongoing political crisis in Belarus for almost a year. Since May 2020, over 30,000 peaceful protesters have been detained by the regime, thousands reported inhuman treatment, police violence, beatings, rape, and torture. Viasna HRC has recognised 322 people as political prisoners, but thousands remain behind bars allegedly for protest-related activity.

Those ongoing events demonstrate the government’s determination to suppress all forms of dissent and free expression of the people of Belarus, including through mass violence. FIDH reiterates its call for Belarus authorities to stop the violence against peaceful protesters and journalists and free all political prisoners in the country.

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