Political persecution in Belarus has been continuing throughout the entire election campaign. Up until election day on 9 August, 24 people were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, among them were two potential presidential candidates – Viktor Babariko (arrested with his son) and Sergei Tikhanovsky. More than 1,000 people were subjected to detention, short-term arrests, and fines. Most of them were members of initiative groups of alternative candidates, journalists, bloggers, participants of campaign events and the collection of signatures for the nomination of presidential candidates, those who took part in protests and solidarity rallies.

On 9 August, after the official announcement of the preliminary results of the presidential election, which indicated massive fraud of the expression of Belarusians’ will, mass peaceful protests of citizens began throughout the country demanding new fair elections. At least 1.5 million Belarusians took part in the protests. The authorities responded to the peaceful protests with a wave of mass repression, unprecedented, brutal, and massive violations of human rights: police violence, torture, enforced disappearances, rape, destruction of the protesters’ property, and killings of peaceful protesters[1].

Over three days, from the 9th to the 12th of August, more than 7,000 peaceful protesters were detained according to official data. Human rights organizations noted that almost every detainee reported the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers, the use of torture, and the denial of the opportunity to report his or her whereabouts to relatives or a lawyer. Police and special services officers are trying to break the detainees by intimidating and brutally beating them. Not only are protesters threatened with reprisals, but also members of their families. Facts of sexual violence against detained protesters, both women and men, have also been recorded.

The security forces are guaranteed impunity and are allowed to use the entire arsenal of special equipment and firearms. Three deaths of peaceful protesters have already been officially confirmed, including from gunshot wounds. 10 days after the active demonstrations, 8 protesters have still not been located, they have disappeared without a trace.

At the moment, more than 60 people are in custody on suspicion or on criminal charges. In the overwhelming majority, the peaceful nature of their activities has been established and they are recognized as political prisoners. The circumstances of the detention of the rest are being investigated. The list of arrested persons facing criminal charges is constantly growing.

The investigation and the courts are fulfilling the political order of the authorities and are persecuting the protest participants by massively falsifying evidence. Government officials who disagree are also targeted. For example, a member of one of the election commissions[2], who refused to sign the forged protocol, was found dead with traces of violence after the elections.

The Investigative Committee has so far not initiated any criminal cases against those directly involved in organizing and committing crimes against the participants in peaceful protests and by-passers, including on the officially recognized facts of murders. Consequently, no one has been detained, suspended, dismissed or has faced any repercussions as a result of their actions. None of the Belarusian top officials have condemned the torture and ill-treatment of civilians. On the contrary, on 18 August, Alexander Lukashenko awarded medals “For the impeccable service” to more than 300 high-ranking and regular employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs “for the exemplary performance of official duties”.

It is important to note that in cities where the police did not use violence, or there were not enough law enforcement officers to disperse peaceful demonstrators, the rallies were held without the disturbance of public order.[3]

Members of the media are becoming targets of police violence. During the election campaign, 197 cases of detentions, arrests and other direct persecution of journalists were documented, of which 84 cases were recorded during the 3-day coverage of protests after election day. Facts of targeted shooting from non-lethal weapons at media workers who were wearing the appropriately marked press vests as well as the beatings of journalists were documented. Law enforcement officers show particular cruelty towards citizens who record massive violations by the authorities on their cameras or phones.

The targets of police violence were also paramedics who provided assistance to wounded protesters. There were cases of aimed shootings from non-lethal weapons at medical volunteers preventing them from providing medical assistance to the seriously wounded. The volunteers had distinctive signs in the form of a red cross on a white background on their clothes. The security forces use medical vehicles to move around the city, as well as to conduct special operations against peaceful protesters. Doctors who report unidentified bodies in morgues are subjected to pressure from the security services and receive threats if they disseminate information about the nature of the injuries and torture of protesters.

There are reasons to believe that the Belarusian authorities are deliberately disregarding the principles of international humanitarian law, implementing a strategy of terror against the participants in peaceful protests.

Based on official statements from Belarusian government officials, it can be concluded that the key officials in the government and Alexander Lukashenko himself are reluctant to admit the inadmissibility of such repressions against their own people, but they will easily commit even greater crimes.

Based on the above, it can be argued that:

● Alexander Lukashenko did not receive a majority in the August 9, 2020 presidential elections. The election results were rigged. Thus, Alexander Lukashenko is no longer a legitimate representative of the interests of the people of Belarus. The countries of the European Union, as well as Canada and the UK did not recognize the election results.

● Alexander Lukashenko uses his loyal administrative apparatus and power structures to illegally usurp power and create an atmosphere of fear throughout the country.

● The authorities of the Republic of Belarus, which have lost their legitimacy, launched an unprecedented campaign of repression against peaceful protesters, which led to brutal, massive and widespread violations of human rights and murder. Furthermore, these are extreme violations of the norms of international humanitarian law.

Recommendations for EU countries:

To prevent even more brutal crimes against the people of Belarus by the administration of Alexander Lukashenko and to stop gross and massive violations of human rights in the Republic of Belarus, we ask the European Union to:

● Thoroughly analyze information for the introduction of personal sanctions against the top leadership of Belarus (ministers and heads of key departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB, the prosecutor’s office, the Investigative Committee, the command of the internal troops), judges, as well as persons involved in election fraud, torture, enforced disappearance and the murders of peaceful protesters. The assets of these persons outside of Belarus should be arrested (or frozen?).

● Introduce harsh economic sanctions against all budget-forming state-owned enterprises in Belarus. Introduce sanctions against foreign counterparties of Belarusian state-owned enterprises. A condition for lifting economic sanctions may be the fulfillment of the requirement for a new presidential election, in accordance with OSCE standards and under the supervision of the OSCE.

● Stop all projects of humanitarian and technical assistance to partners that involve government agencies from Belarus.

● Organize the work of the EU mission to document human rights violations in the Republic of Belarus with a broad mandate, which will include access to places of detention.

● Initiate a program of emergency financial assistance to the Belarusian society, namely: civil and trade union organizations, initiatives to collect and analyze facts of human rights violations during the election campaign and after its completion, organizations providing professional legal, medical, social and psychological assistance and support to victims of mass police brutalities.

● While the political situation in Belarus is being settled, simplify access to the EU countries for Belarusian citizens persecuted by the authorities, whose presence in Belarus may involve a risk to their life, health and well-being as well as a risk to their family members.

[1] Report on human rights violation of protesters in Belarus from 7 to 14 August 2020 – http://zvyano.by/%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4-%D0%BE-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%83%D1%88%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B8-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B2-%D1%83%D1%87%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2-%D0%BF%D1%80/?fbclid=IwAR3uBkW3SY7xRTqa9n74ub3cA2SXZhbuhHzlXF09fw7ze6j-FbTSO9OS6zI

[2] A museum director who refused to sign the election protocol found dead in Belarus: https://www.dw.com/ru/v-belarusi-najden-mertvym-direktor-muzeja-otkazavshijsja-podpisat-protokol-na-vyborah/a-54614805

[3] Human rights activists call for an end to the detention, use of force and special means against civilians: http://spring96.org/be/news/98935?fbclid=IwAR3RQICWx41TaMr30_Qp5ZOKCRH5ristDUfas4KFzyirjPxkieJliIgPEFA

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