Belarus: Vicious crackdown on peaceful protests mars ‘Freedom Day’

Belarusian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested before and during peaceful protests and end their vicious crackdown against demonstrators, Amnesty International said after dozens of ‘Freedom Day’ demonstrators were violently arrested and human rights observers detained.

Amnesty International’s monitors witnessed the arrest of dozens of peaceful protesters at demonstrations in Minsk, and saw instances of excessive use of force by the police. They did not witness a single incident of violence on the part of demonstrators. These arrests followed the preventative arrest of prominent civil society leaders and opposition figures and detention of around 60 human rights observers.

“Freedom Day proves this year more than ever, how little genuine freedom the people of Belarus have. We have seen peaceful protesters viciously beaten on the streets of Minsk today and an elderly woman knocked to the ground by riot police,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

“Rather than allow people to exercise their right to peacefully protest the Belarusian authorities have once again resorted to authoritarian tactics: banning demonstrations, preventatively detaining human rights monitors and arbitrarily arresting protesters. This vicious crackdown against freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must stop and those arrested must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Background

Amnesty International’s monitors personally witnessed the detention of over 20 individuals on Independence Avenue near the Academy of Sciences building. They witnessed one elderly woman being knocked to the ground by riot police before being arrested.

On Saturday morning, police raided the offices of the prominent human rights group Vyasna and briefly detained around 60 people.

The wave of peaceful street protests began in Belarus in mid-February after hundreds of thousands of Belarusians received tax bills under a Presidential Decree aimed at ending “social parasitism” – effectively, a tax on the unemployed.

On 21 March, President Lukashenka accused “Western” organizations of financing the protests in order to instigate “scuffles and bloodshed” in the country. He also stated that some 20 “fighters” had been detained for “preparing armed provocations” on 25 March.