Human Rights Watch: Keep up pressure on Belarus to release detainees and respect fundamental freedoms
Authorities across Belarus arbitrarily detained at least 700 people in March 2017 in connection with peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch said. The majority, including more than 100 journalists and 60 human rights activists, were detained in connection with peaceful protests marking Belarus’ annual Freedom Day on March 25.
Police punched, kicked, clubbed, and otherwise abused many of the detainees. On March 27, courts in Minsk and other cities swiftly sentenced 177 people, including journalists and human rights activists, to fines or detention on fabricated misdemeanor charges. Hours before the March 25 rally in Minsk, riot police raided the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, one of the country’s leading human rights groups, detaining 58 people.
“Belarusian authorities led a shocking, all-out assault on peaceful assembly around the Freedom Day protests,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Belarus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They should immediately release everyone who was detained in connection with the protests and investigate allegations of police mistreatment.”
“There were more detentions of journalists in one day than through all of last year,” Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarussian Association of Journalists, an independent group, told Human Rights Watch, referring to journalists detained while covering the March 25 rally.
One journalist was detained three times in as many days, and several told Human Rights Watch that the police had beaten them. Authorities repeatedly harassed another journalist, including threatening twice to take away her child unless she stopped covering protests. A human rights activist with Viasna had to be hospitalized for a concussion he sustained due to police mistreatment.
“The authorities brazenly prevented journalists and human rights monitors from simply doing their job covering the protests,” Gorbunova said. “They made little attempt to hide their contempt for Belarus’ commitments on media freedoms.”
“None of Belarus’ international partners should be under any illusions about any real change in the government’s contempt for its human rights commitments,” Gorbunova said. “They should keep up the pressure on Belarus to release detainees and respect fundamental freedoms.”