On February 15th, Belarusian police forces entered the apartments of journalists and human rights activists as well as their offices in the Belarusian Association of Journalists. These forces confiscated equipment, such as laptops, hard drives, and mobile phones, and took 30 people into detention. The vice-president of the Journalist Association, Andrei Bastunets, was quoted saying, “There have been more than 400 detentions of journalists over the last six months, and the authorities aren’t going to stop at that.” Independent human rights organizations have spoken up about this violent form of political silencing as a “clearly centrally organized” and “targeted attempt to decimate the country’s independent media and human rights organizations.”
These actions have been perceived by journalists and the Council of Europe’s Humans Rights as actions against the freedom of speech and association, as well as a direct attack on those who oppose the re-elected President Lukashenko who is going into this sixth consecutive term. The opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, tried to dispute the election results however she was exiled; this demonstrated Lukashenko’s clear undemocratic views and ambitions.
The election results which were released on August 9th, 2020 showed that Lukashenko won by a landslide with over 80% of the votes. The dubious election results and proceedings were condemned by most Western countries with the U.S. Secretary of State saying, “[that the U.S. is] deeply concerned about the conduct of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, which was not free and fair.” Political experts have declared that the election results were falsified. Protests started and these protesters were met with violent police forces. The actions of the police against civilians were condemned by Amnesty International, a United Kingdoms based NGO that focuses on human rights. There have been 450 United Nations documented cases of torture and ill treatment on behalf of the Belarusian protestors since August 9th, 2020.
This issue of detaining journalists has been occurring for many months in Belarus. The U.S. embassy in Belarus released this statement on August 29th, 2020 stating, “We are concerned by the continued targeting of journalists, the blocking of independent media and opposition websites… exercising their rights of freedom of assembly and speech. We call on the Government of Belarus to demonstrate restraint.” Lukashenko, the current president, has been described as a dictator functioning under authoritarian rules rather than the democratic ones supposedly set in place. Protests over his constant re-election have been occurring since 2010.
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