Human rights at the forefront of Belarusian election controversy
Massive protests follow Lukashenko's 80% victory
by: Andrew Dobie
Photo courtesy of Artem Podrez via Pexels
Country’s future on the line
Many of the ongoing mass protests in Belarus are increasingly being met by severe police brutality, following the controversial and widely disputed re-election of long-serving President Alexander Lukashenko on 9 August 2020.
As it has been reported that President Lukashenko stood to gain a landslide victory with around 80% of votes, thousands across the country quickly flocked to the streets to protest peacefully. Their discontent was stark, following a complete lack of independent election observers and alleged widespread documented irregularities.
Large sections of Belarusian society are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what many view as rising corruption and poverty, coupled with a general lack of economic and social opportunity for many Belarusians.
Such concerns were manifested in the run-up to August’s election, with a reported crackdown on opposition candidates. With two reportedly imprisoned and a third forced into exile, a trio of female replacements emerged, spearheaded by Svaytlana Tsikhanouskaya. Following a brief detention herself, she has since fled to safety in Lithuania with her family, saying that “what is happening now is not worth a single life”.
Severe and disproportionate response from authorities
In the first four days of protests, the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior reported around 6,700 arrests. Police responses to date have included the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and in some cases, live ammunition allegedly. Two protesters are reported to have died so far.
Thus, - not so surprisingly - both domestic and international concerns have emerged about the conditions and treatment of those detained by state authorities. Despite various internet blackouts in Belarus, and rising attacks on journalists covering the protests, evidence, and reports are emerging of alleged severe mistreatment of prisoners in detention centers.
Amnesty International, is one of several human rights groups, already heavily involved in documenting and publicizing these apparently widespread and flagrant human rights violations in Belarus. Testimonies gathered by Amnesty delegates ‘from former detainees’ allege ‘inter alia’ severe and sustained beatings, overcrowded conditions, and lack of access to water and proper medical attention. Such assertions are being corroborated by emerging photo and video evidence, despite state efforts to stifle such content. “We call on the authorities of Belarus to immediately stop the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and release every person arbitrarily detained” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Growing discontent in Belarus has also been seen in various strikes across the country, including in some state-owned enterprises and state TV.
Photo courtesy of A Matskevich via Pixabay
In spite of the protests, President Lukashenko appears to be digging in, reportedly telling protesters “until you kill me, there will be no other election”. However, with having growing pressure from within Belarus and from the international community, and with the potential for sanctions against Belarus’ leadership, the President has allegedly expressed a willingness to hold a referendum “in accordance with the Constitution – but not under pressure and not via street protests”.
However, with such an assertion yet to manifest into any action at all, the eyes of the international community are very much on Belarus.