Tens of thousands of people in Belarus are not afraid to protest against “Europe’s last dictatorship”. There have been many arrests, police brutality and one particularly terrible case of repression.
Despite a parade of soldiers in riot gear and assault rifles, tens of thousands in Belarus have called for President Alexander Lukashenko’s resignation for the sixth consecutive Sunday. “Lukashenko, uchodi!” – in German: “Get out of here!” – the protest march sang “Prospect of the Victors” on the street in the capital Minsk and at a memorial to the victims of the Second World War.
Despite the police brutality, thousands of people took to the streets in Minsk on Sunday: the police and army are taking action against the protests. (Source: AP / dpa)
The power apparatus brought together hundreds of police and military on Sunday to prevent the “March of Justice”. Observers spoke of more than 50,000 participants – less than the last. Human rights activists reported more than 100 arrests in Minsk and other cities early in the evening.
Fear of violence
Lukashenko, 66, had called for tougher action against his critics. During the women’s protest on Saturday alone, there was a record number of more than 400 arrests in this regular action. Political scientist Valery Karbelevich said police brutality against peaceful protesters and “thumbs-tightening” in general should heighten fears in society. The fact that fewer people now came, could therefore be a result of this course.
Usual Belarus Sunday. The metro is closed in the city center. Minsk City Hero Obelisk, Independence Square, Presidential Palace have already been blocked. Hundreds of military vehicles with soldiers and equipment entered the center. Authorities are preparing for last week’s scenario. pic.twitter.com/TN960fQ4x6
– Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) September 13, 2020
Since the presidential elections on August 9, there have been daily protests in Belarus. Lukashenko was declared the election winner after 26 years in office with 80.1 percent of the vote. However, the opposition considers Svetlana Tichanowskaya to be the real winner.
Minsk: President Alexander Lukashenko has announced that he will not step down voluntarily. (Source: dpa)
Soldiers in combat uniforms armed with assault rifles stood in the Palace of the Republic on Sunday, a local correspondent for the German news agency reported. The square in front of the palace, like Independence Square, was surrounded by metal bars. Troops of the militia, as the police in Belarus are called, and the army also took up positions in the side streets of the Independence prospectus. A column of strong forces with armor technology moved in the prospectus. As on previous Sundays, the strongest contingent of emergency services was in the presidential palace.
The ruler Lukashenko had recently shown himself twice with a Kalashnikov to avoid storming the palace. The protests are always peaceful. Authorities blocked metro stations in the city center on Sunday to prevent the influx of people. The mobile internet did not work either. People poured into the center on foot from different directions.
“Don’t be afraid to be free!”
There were also protests in other cities, including Brest, Grodno, Gomel, Vitebsk and Chodino. In Brest, the police lit a torch as a warning. Photos and videos on Telegram’s news channel, through which the protests are organized, revealed the brutal arrests of vulnerable civilians.
Thousands of people took to the streets across the country despite threats from the president. There were numerous arrests again. (Source: Reuters)
“It’s worth fighting for freedom. Don’t be afraid to be free!” Said imprisoned opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova. The 38-year-old had led the protests against Lukashenko before being kidnapped two weeks ago and then arrested. She said she was not sorry.
Opposition activist Tichanovskaya had repeatedly asked security forces to stop carrying out criminal orders against peaceful protesters. It also announced a “blacklist” of the names of the masked men in uniform. The Nexta Live portal, which has approximately two million subscribers, has published the list on Telegram. The names, dates of birth and places of residence of about 1,000 members of the security forces could be read there. The hacking group called Cyber Partisans made the list. The Interior Ministry in Minsk announced that those responsible for the data breach would be found and punished.
EU advises on sanctions
Security forces are on the street wearing balaclavas and uniforms without identification. Human rights activists criticize this as a violation of Belarusian and international rules. The security forces must feel safe from criminal prosecution. The Belarusian opposition announced that those responsible for the deaths, hundreds of injuries and thousands of arrests would be found.
Police arrest a protester in Misnk: the security forces have been using violence against protests in the capital for days. (Source: Reuters)
The foreign ministries of Belarus and its allied neighbor Russia, meanwhile, called on the European Union not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. In particular, they warned against imposing sanctions against Lukashenko’s power apparatus. The EU ministers of Foreign Affairs want to discuss the punitive measures in Brussels on Monday. Tichanovskaya is also expected in the Belgian city. She is expected to provide first-hand information about the situation in her country over breakfast with the main diplomats of the EU countries.
“This barbarism must stop”
On Saturday, Tichanovskaya complained of increasing repression in her home country during her involuntary exile in the EU. She accused Lukashenko’s “regime” of a new low for now instrumentalizing children. Authorities had put the six-year-old son of Minsk activist Jelena Lasartschik in a house on Friday. Hundreds of people called for their son to be returned to their parents outside the facility on Saturday. Lasarchik left the house with the child in the morning – to the shouts of “Hooray” and applause from the crowd.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was shocked. Once again, the country’s leadership used children as “political hostages”. The practice is known from the communist era of the Soviet Union, when attempts were made to break the political will of women in this way. “This barbarism must end,” he wrote on Twitter. Tichanovskaya had also reported during the election campaign that she had been threatened with the loss of her children. She then had her son and daughter transferred to the neighboring EU country of Lithuania.