Picks of the week
Another member of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s nomination group has been charged under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (gross breach of public order) over an incident during an election picket on May 29 in Hrodna. Andrei Novikau, a Russian national living in Belarus, has been in pre-trial detention since June 11.
Earlier, the authorities charged Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign chief and husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, along with eight more member of her nomination group. Two of them are additionally accused of using violence against police officers.
On June 11, presidential nominee Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced a three-day suspension of her campaign activities in Minsk and other major cities of Belarus. The statement came after dozens of Tsikhanouskaya’s signature collectors were detained or otherwise harassed, including during an election picket on May 29, which ended in her husband’s arrest.
The nominee says she was forced to suspend her pickets due to “possible provocations by the law enforcement agencies and increased pressure and repression” against members of her nomination group.
According to Uladzimir Labkovich, coordinator of the nation-wide civil observation initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, says the decision is the “logical result of a brutal campaign of persecution.”
“What we have witnessed in recent weeks is a targeted special operation to prevent her and her team from collecting signatures. It included provocations during pickets, which resulted in the detention of Siarhei Tsikhanouski and a number of members of the nomination group and regional coordinators (Siarhei Tsikhanouski is the head of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s nomination group). This is evidence that the law enforcement has been using provocations, mass detentions and pressure on the participants in election meetings to eliminate her as a possible presidential candidate. It is clear that this is the reaction of the authorities to the nominee’s growing popularity, to the queues of people willing to sign for Tsikhanouskaya’s nomination,” Labkovich said.
Alena Masliukova, Viasna’s activist in Svietlahorsk, is facing another charge of “illegal protesting” (Art. 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). The charge stems from the Masliukova’s alleged involvement in a picket held on May 31 to protest the detention of critical blogger and election activist Siarhei Tsikhanouski.
Masliukova says she was not part of the picket, but only monitored the gathering as a long-term election observer.
Viasna’s human rights defenders stress that the charge Masliukova is facing is an “obstacle to exercising her legitimate activities as an observer.”
“Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections strongly protest against the persecution of Alena Masliukova and demand an immediate end to the administrative proceedings against her,” Viasna’s activist Valiantsin Stefanovich said.
Earlier, Alena Masliukova was named a suspect in a defamation criminal case involving a government official. Her apartment was searched and several devices were seized by the police.
Between May 6 and June 10, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” is aware of at least 192 persons convicted for their involvement in peaceful protests. 90 were sentenced to various terms of administrative detention and 102 protesters were fined a total of 86,000 rubles.
The police continue to detain and charge people for public expression of opinions or even simply for attending peaceful rallies and election pickets staged by signature collectors.