Picks of the week
After banishing independent observation from polling stations, the Central Election Commission has taken another repressive decision, which is expected to make this year’s election even less transparent to the public.
On July 24, the CEC said it would not allow reporters writing or shooting for private outlets to work in the official information center set to open on August 9.
The electoral authorities again cite COVID-19 as a reason for their restrictions. Only government-run newsrooms will be let into the media hub, the CEC chairperson Lidziya Yarmoshyna said. Others will hear the official voting statistics at a press conference scheduled for the following day, August 10.
On July 24, political prisoner Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention on charges of “illegal protesting”. The hearing was held via a video conferencing app, as the critical blogger is currently held in custody awaiting a criminal trial.
The charge stems from an election picket staged on May 27 in Mahilioŭ, when Tsikhanouski was collecting signatures to support the presidential nomination of his wife Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Some 50 people arrived at the court building to express their solidarity, but most of them were not allowed into the courtroom. The judge again referred to epidemiologic concerns. Tsikhanouski’s supporters and the reporters were eventually expelled after a woman cried out “We are with you”.
Tsikhanouski was not notified of the hearing and was not allowed to read the case file. The judge only gave him 15 minutes to talk with his lawyer.
During the hearing, a police officer representing the prosecution said that the blogger used a megaphone to chant “Stop the Cockroach!” (a derogatory name used to attack President Lukashenka) and “Long Live, Belarus!”.
As of July 24, Viasna is aware of four persons arrested in a criminal case opened after the protests of July 14, when over 300 demonstrators were rounded up.
Anton Shumau, 31, Uladzimir Khamichkou, 20, and Anton Valavik are suspected of breaching public order. Shumau, Valavik, together with Uladzislau Ustsin, 21, are also accused of using violence against police officers.
All of them are held in pre-trial detention in Minsk.
Shumau was detained after the protest. The following day, he was fined 945 rubles on “illegal protesting” charges. However, he was not released, but arrested in a criminal case. Shumau has not faced formal charges yet. His lawyer declined to talk about the case citing a non-disclosure agreement.
Ustsin was initially detained on July 14. He was then released without a charge, but on July 16, men in civilian clothes arrested the youth at his working place.
Valavik was arrested on July 21.
Human rights defenders and reporters also say the police have questioned over 450 witnesses. In violation of criminal procedures, their phones were also taken to find evidence of their involvement in the July 14 protest.