Belarus: End Massive Government Crackdown

(Moscow, March 14, 2011) – The Belarusian authorities arbitrarily detained and abused hundreds of people following a rally protesting President Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s re-election on December 19, 2010, and have since carried out a campaign to stifle civil society and free expression across the country, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 31-page report, “Shattering Hopes: Post-Election Crackdown in Belarus,” documents the human rights violations that have occurred since the election – including persecution of opposition candidates and activists, abuse of detainees, trials behind closed doors, and raids on human rights organizations. The report also details allegations of extremely poor conditions in detention, denial of access to defense counsel, and government pressure on lawyers representing those facing criminal charges related to the post-election protest. These and other abuses contribute to a serious deterioration of the already poor state of human rights in Belarus, Human Rights Watch said. The report is based on interviews conducted in February 2011 in Minsk.

“For well over a decade the Belarusian government has steadily tightened its grip on civil society,” said Anna Sevortian, Russia director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, the new wave of persecution is a crisis that requires a strong UN response.”

Human Rights Watch and more than one hundred human rights organizations and activists urged the United Nations Human Rights Council, currently in session in Geneva, to adopt a resolution condemning human rights violations perpetrated in the aftermath of the December 19 presidential election and establishing steps the Belarusian government should take to improve the situation.

As many as 30,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Minsk, on December 19 peacefully to protest what they feared would be yet another stolen election. When Lukashenka’s landslide victory was declared, a few dozen masked people started breaking windows in the main government building. Police and security forces moved in and beat everyone within reach – most of them peaceful protesters – kicking those who fell, and chasing and grabbing people, including bystanders, in adjacent streets.

That night and in the days that followed, police arrested hundreds of people. During the next two weeks, administrative courts sentenced at least 725 people to between 10 and 15 days “administrative detention” for participating in an unsanctioned gathering. Trials took place behind closed doors, and hearings typically lasted between 10 and 15 minutes. In most cases, those accused had no defense counsel and were not allowed to call witnesses.

Detainees served their sentences in overcrowded cells, where they were forced to sleep on the floor, share beds, or take turns sleeping. Many say their cells were freezing and lacked toilets.


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