International human rights groups: Belarus protests in focus
The arrest of dozens of protesters and journalists over the weekend is the “biggest crackdown in years”, Amnesty International said in response to the alarming reports coming from Belarus.
At least 48 protesters, including civil society leaders and independent journalists, were detained on 10, 11 and 12 March in connection with protests in the cities of Babrujsk, Kobryn, Brest, Luniniec and Maladziechna.
“With basic freedoms strangled in Belarus, it has been years since we saw protests of this scale, which appear to have taken the Belarusian authorities by surprise,” said John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“After initially allowing protests against the deeply controversial unemployment tax to proceed, now the authorities have returned to their habitual knee-jerk reaction of arresting peaceful demonstrators. This escalation is disturbing and the arbitrary detention of dissenting voices must end immediately.”
“The Belarusian authorities must not crack down on peaceful dissenters just for daring to voice their opinion. Instead of detaining them, the authorities must respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Anyone arrested during the protests for peacefully criticizing the government must be immediately released,” said John Dalhuisen.
Freedom House has issued a statement in response to authorities in Belarus detaining demonstrators peacefully protesting a tax on the unemployed.
“The government of Belarus has detained or fined more than 75 protestors for exercising their right to peaceful protest,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “With arrests taking place with little or no due process in Mensk, Vorsha, Magileu, Maladzechna, Babruisk and other cities, authorities apparently want to silence all criticism of a presidential decree that requires the unemployed to pay a tax for being ‘social parasites.’ The government should also heed opposition to commercial development at the site of a mass grave in Kuropaty, where tens of thousands of people were killed during Soviet purges and terror campaigns.”
Civil Rights Defenders is deeply concerned by the recent actions of the Belarusian authorities to harass and detain journalists, human rights defenders and members of the political opposition for their participation in peaceful protests.
“The government of Belarus must immediately stop these actions and respect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression of its citizens,” Civil Rights Defenders said in a statement.
“Civil society leaders expressed their worries that these protests will lead to mass reprisals as occurred in December 2010, when more than 600 people were arrested in connection to peaceful assembly. Many were later convicted, spending up to 15 days in prison,” it said.
Earlier, the Sweden-based Östgruppen human rights group invited the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström to react against the abuses.
"Lukashenka's resumed brutality against dissidents must not pass unnoticed. Foreign Minister Wallström should condemn the action and demand an explanation from the Belarusian regime", Östgruppen Chairman Martin Uggla said.
On March 11, the Swiss-German initiative Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights launched an email campaign for the release of detained protesters in Belarus.
"The imprisonment of peaceful protesters and the persecution of dissidents are strong violations of human rights, the compliance of which Belarus is obligated to guarantee according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," says the petition.