Belarus: Demonstrators must be allowed freedom of expression (AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE)
The Belarusian authorities must ensure the right to peaceful protest for
political opponents and human rights activists, Amnesty international said
today, in the context of anti-government demonstrations planned for
tomorrow, the 10th anniversary of Alyaksandr Lukashenko's presidency.
"There should be no repeat of the ugly scenes of police brutality and
arbitrary arrest witnessed during past demonstrations," Amnesty
"International human rights standards must be fully observed during
policing operations," the organization stressed.
In the past large scale protest actions have met with a repressive
response from the Belarusian authorities and have resulted in waves of
arrests. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concern about
the Belarusian authorities' disregard for human rights, including the
harassment and intimidation of non-governmental organizations and trade
unions, the stifling of freedom of expression and association, and
"disappearances" of opposition politicians and a cameraman.
"The Belarusian authorities continually demonstrate their lack of
tolerance for dissent."
"Anyone detained for their peaceful protests will be considered to
be a prisoner of conscience", Amnesty International said as the
organization is preparing to monitor closely the demonstration on 21 July.
The Belarusian authorities are obliged under Articles 19 and 21 of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee
citizens the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This is
particularly important in the run-up to the parliamentary elections on 17
October when those engaged in civil society, and in particular members of
opposition, should be allowed to express their views openly .
In March 2004, Amnesty International called on the authorities to end the
practice of detaining people solely for the peaceful exercise of their
fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association. In April 2002,
85 peaceful demonstrators were detained and more than 30 were sentenced to
periods of imprisonment of between three and 15 days. Opposition activists
are continually harassed and according to Zubr, a non-registered youth
organization for democracy and human rights, in the period between January
2001 and December 2003 more than a thousand incidences of such harassment
occurred during peaceful public actions. This year already Amnesty
International has taken up two cases of activists who have been arrested
for the peaceful expression of their views.
In April 2004, the UN Commission on Human Rights criticized Belarus
for continued reports of arbitrary arrest and detention and for the
harassment of non-governmental organizations, opposition political parties
and those engaged in democratic activities. It has called on Belarus to
bring the actions of its police and security forces into conformity with
its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political
In May 2004, the Council of Europe rejected an application from
Belarus to renew its special status with the organization which had been
suspended when President Lukashenko dissolved the parliament in 1997.