Crackdown on protestors and journalists

A United Nations official Wednesday (12 August 2020) joined world leaders in condemning the Belarusian government’s violent crackdown on protestors and journalists following last Sunday’s presidential election there, which critics have called an undemocratic sham.

“I remind the Belarusian authorities that the use of force during protests should always be exceptional and a measure of last resort, clearly differentiating between any violent individuals and peaceful protesters, against whom force should not be used,” Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights at the U.N., said in a statement.

“State authorities must allow and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and not repress it,” she added. “People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not supressed.”

People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not supressed.
—Michelle Bachelet, United Nations

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, who Axios reported is known as “Europe’s last dictator,” has ruled the country in Eastern Europe since 1994. Lukashenko declared victory with 80% of the vote Sunday, after jailing or exiling many of his opponents, leaving Svetlana G. Tikhanovskaya, who’s husband was among those jailed, as Lukashenko’s main opponent in the election.

Amid mounting protests and reported pressure from Belarusian authorities, Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania Tuesday and later released a cryptic video saying she “took a very difficult decision” to leave Belarus.

Meanwhile, protests have continued in Belarus and Lukashenko has detained detractors, arresting more than 6,000 people. At least two protestors have died, and numerous others report abuse at the hands of the Belarusian authorities, which world leaders have condemned. Humanitarian groups including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists have also called on the regime to halt its attacks on the press.

Lukashenko’s regime appears undeterred by accusations of humanitarian abuse. Belarusian state TV Wednesday broadcast video footage of six visibly beaten protestors with their hands bound behind their backs promising to give up. “Will we be making a revolution?” a guard asks them. “No, never,” two reply.

Nonviolent protests carried on in Belarus, including a group of women in the nation’s capitol, Minsk, Thursday forming what they called a “chain of solidarity,” holding hands and waving flowers and flashing peace signs.

“Free flow of information is crucial in any democratic society, and especially in a context of crisis and social unrest,” said Bachelet.

The U.N. commissioner also addressed reports of nationwide internet disruption, which she and others have called an attempt at censorship amid unrest.

“Even more so, in the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic, and where people might feel compelled to express dissent online rather than on the streets,” she said. “The right to peacefully protest online must be also protected.”


Steve Hart is a writer and podcaster.