Amnesty International: Mass arrests during peaceful gatherings violated protesters’ rights and provoked violence
Responding to last night’s arrests of over two hundred protesters in Belarus’ capital Minsk and other cities across the country, Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus, said:
“The people who have gathered to denounce the elimination of opposition presidential candidates from the election list have every right to take to the streets. Peaceful protest is an essential way of exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
“Protesters claim that the sole reason Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s political opponents have been purged from the campaign is so that he can seek a sixth consecutive term as President, effectively unopposed.
“Yesterday, the police sought to disperse peaceful gatherings, with excessive and unnecessary use of force and in many cases deploying police officers in plain clothes. This provoked violent responses from some protesters who tried to prevent others being arrested and beaten, and served to escalate tensions. However, according to eyewitnesses and widely available video footage, the gatherings remained largely peaceful, and many of those arrested were peaceful protesters.
“The Belarusian authorities must respect human rights and must not disperse and prosecute people who stand up for their rights and for their political choices. Anyone detained simply for peacefully protesting in Minsk, or other cities, is a prisoner of conscience, and must be immediately and unconditionally released.”
On the 14 July, at least 220 activists were detained in Minsk and other Belarusian cities as they gathered in protest against the announcement by the Central Electoral Commission that two major opposition contenders for the post of the president in the forthcoming election in August have been excluded from the race on widely-disputed technical grounds.
According to observers, law enforcement was specifically targeting journalists amongst others. Many cases of unnecessary and excessive use of force were reported — the special task force officers and policemen in plain clothes beat and kicked protesters with their fists and batons. Some of the detainees in Minsk were forced to kneel in the police vans.
At the end of May, popular aspiring candidate Syarhei Tsikhanouski was placed under arrest, apparently to prevent him from standing in the election. A criminal investigation was later opened against him, Viktar Babaryka, another potential candidate, as well as against dozens of their associates, who are all now in detention.