On November 8, Belarusian authorities detained more than a thousand peaceful protesters, inching closer to the record numbers of arrests in early August.
For more than three months, people in Belarus have been protesting the contested August 9 presidential election results and police brutality that followed. Marches and rallies, sometimes uniting hundreds of thousands of people, have become a weekly tradition.
On November 8, authorities used a familiar set of tools against protesters in the capital Minsk. Internet service providers notified their users that internet access would be restricted, as ordered by the government. Plain-clothed law enforcement officers chased and brutally detained protesters while armed personnel carriers and water cannons were deployed in the city center and riot police called on protesters to “go home.”
Police across the country detain hundreds of protesters every weekend. But this weekend the numbers were exceptionally high. According to the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, at least 1,053 people were detained in connection with the November 8 rally, most of them in Minsk. At least 163 people were charged with breaching the rules on public gatherings and ordered to pay fines or serve time in custody the following day. Others await trial.
The number of arrests is especially striking considering the report on the human rights situation in Belarus, released last week by the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The report documented “massive and systematic” human rights violations before and after the presidential elections of August 9 and called for an international investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
Such a mass detention of peaceful demonstrators indicates yet again the Belarusian authorities’ lack of political will to engage with the serious concerns raised by the OSCE or United Nations human rights bodies.
“We won’t forget! We won’t forgive” has become a slogan of the continuous protests in Belarus. It refers to police brutality against protesters in the days after August 9, followed by the shocking lack of accountability for the grave human rights violations. OSCE participating states and UN agencies should amplify the calls of the Belarusian pro-democracy protests and commence an independent investigation that could help end impunity for ongoing police brutality and restrictions on freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights.