August 9 marks a year since the rigged presidential elections in Belarus, officially won by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who was seeking his fifth re-election. Thousands of Belarusians came to the streets of Minsk and many other cities in response to this event. Lukashenka continues to rule and uses ever stronger repression against the nation.
Statistics published by independent media and organizations on the scale of repression over the past year are worrying. In connection with anti-government protests, nearly 4.7 thousand people were initiated. criminal cases involving “extremism” and “terrorism”. As noted by Radio Svoboda, until August 9 last year in Belarus there were no cases of “extremism and terrorism” related to political events and protests.
According to human rights defenders, 608 political prisoners are currently held in Belarusian prisons. Before last August’s elections in August, 25 people were considered political prisoners in this country.
Persecuted opposition activists, activists …
The most recognizable politicians and activists go to jail. Among them is Wiktar Babaryka, Lukashenka’s would-be rival in the elections, who collected 435 thousand. signatures on his candidacy, which was – as reported then by the independent media in Minsk – “an absolute record in the history of independent Belarus”. Despite this, Babaryka was not allowed to participate in the elections. In July, the former head of Belhazprambank was sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly laundering money. There are also court trials of Babaryka’s close associates who supported the opposition candidate Swiatlana Cichanouska in the election campaign.
The trial of Cichanouska’s husband, an activist and blogger, is also underway Siarhej Cichanouskiwho was also not allowed to participate in last year’s elections. He was accused of organizing mass riots and inciting social hatred, obstructing the work of the Central Election Commission and organizing activities that seriously violate public order. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Many opponents, activists and anti-government activists faced similar charges.
… and journalists
The repressions affected not only oppositionists. The Independent Association of Journalists of Belarus reported that journalists in Belarus were detained 497 times in the last year. The number of violence against media workers reaches 68. Arrests of journalists took place 119 times. 29 representatives of the media remain behind bars.
Criminal proceedings are pending against 50 people. Searches in editorial offices and journalists’ apartments took place 135 times.
Escape from repression
The emigration from Belarus of those who feel threatened has started in the August elections. Over a thousand Belarusians applied for asylum in Poland, 218 – in Lithuania. 65 asked for international protection from the Czech Republic – reported by Radio Swoboda. The Belarusian border guard does not provide data on how many people left the country in the last year.
“The cost of maintaining Lukashenka’s power turned out to be very high for Belarus and continues to grow, mainly due to the intensified economic sanctions and international isolation,” Minsk political scientist Valer Karbalevich wrote on the occasion of the anniversary of the elections.
“The whole country is held hostage by Alexander Lukashenka,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas said in a statement sent to Deutsche Welle on Sunday evening. At the same time, he praised the “persistence” of the Belarusians. He stressed that “Germany and the EU stand on the side of the Belarusian people”. “We will not allow him to be muzzled,” said Maas.
dw.com, Radio Swoboda, tvn24
Main photo source: STR / PAP / EPA