According to the most recent Special Rapporteur report, throughout March 2017, the government unleashed a nationwide violent crackdown on peaceful protests. HRW’s on-the-ground research, which included interviews with journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and released detainees as well as attending court hearings, echoes the report’s conclusions.
In March this year, Belarusian authorities led a shocking assault on peaceful assembly around “Freedom Day” protests, with police routinely using excessive force – reminiscent of the authorities’ attacks against the December 2010 post-electoral protests and a reminder of their hostility to dissenting voices.
Police arbitrarily detained around 700 people; punched, kicked, clubbed, and otherwise abused many of the detainees. In the following days courts swiftly sentenced 177 people, including journalists and human rights activists, to fines or detention on fabricated misdemeanor charges. Hours before the March 25 rally in Minsk, riot police raided the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, detaining 58 people. The authorities brazenly prevented journalists and human rights monitors from doing their job covering the protests, by harassing them, sometimes repeatedly. Dozens of journalists were arbitrarily detained, some beaten. A human rights monitor required hospitalization for concussion he sustained following police mistreatment.
Since the Human Rights Council’s last resolution on Belarus, there has regrettably been no meaningful improvement in the overall human rights situation. Officials pressure and arrest human rights activists and critics on spurious charges. Authorities regularly harass independent and opposition journalists. Legislative amendments further restricted freedom of expression, in particular internet freedom. The death penalty remains in use and no progress has been made towards its abolition.
Belarus’ international partners should be under no illusions about any systemic changes in the Belarusian government’s contempt for its human rights commitments. Human Rights Council members should vote in favor of a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which remains a critically important instrument for independent monitoring and an early warning mechanism on the fragile human rights situation, despite the continued refusal on part of the Belarusian authorities to cooperate.