Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Monday that “we won’t allow our country to be torn apart” in the wake of protests, according to Belarusian news agency Belta. Protests erupted in Belarus on Sunday, August 9 following the results of the presidential election that declared Lukashenko the winner who received 80% of the vote. This election grants a sixth term to Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus for 26 years and has earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator.” Many opposition groups claim that widespread fraud including ballot stuffing occurred in order to ensure Lukashenko’s victory, and therefore argue the election was unfair. Belarus’ independent monitoring group, “Honest People”, says that according to its data collection the opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskay, won in at least 80 polling stations across the country. This has caused many to demand a recount.
Since the beginning of the protests on Sunday, more than 6,700 people have been arrested and at least one person has been killed, as reported by CNN. Authorities have periodically shut down internet access and have employed a “disproportionate” use of force on protestors according to the European Union. CNN reports that there have been accounts of authorities using water cannons, stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas on protestors in an unprecedented level of police violence. Belarus’ Press Association reports that at least 50 journalists have been detained or injured during the protests as well. Furthermore, Lukashenko’s opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was forced out of the country on Tuesday, August 11 and fled to neighboring Lithuania after she rejected the preliminary election results that handed Lukashenko a victory. Many details surrounding her departure are still unclear at this time.
The questionable fairness of the Belarus election along with the use of police brutality on protestors has garnered responses from multiple countries and organizations outside of Belarus. The presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia released a joint statement on Thursday, August 13 that calls upon President Lukashenko to end the use of force against his people, release all detained protesters, and begin a dialogue with the public. Additionally, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement Wednesday, August 12 that condemns the violence being used against the protestors, saying 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 protestors, against whom force should not be used.” The European Union and the United States are both considering enacting sanctions on Belarus for its violent response to protests. E.U. foreign ministers will be meeting on Friday, August 14 to discuss imposing sanctions on Belarus.
The excessive use of police force by Belarusian authorities on its people who are protesting an election they deem as neither free nor fair is a clear violation of human rights. By protesting, Belarusians are expressing their discontent with the lack of freedom and fairness provided to them through the recent presidential election, and they should be listened to rather than met with extreme violence from police. The E.U. and U.S. should move forward with sanctioning Belarus over using disproportionate violence on its citizens, and perhaps the U.N. should similarly consider sanctioning Belarus over this issue to ensure that further violations of human rights do not occur. The leaders of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia should additionally continue to put pressure on Lukashenko to release detained protestors and end the extreme police violence. The international community needs to make it clear that excessive violence as a response to peaceful protesting is unacceptable, and they also must push Belarus toward holding more free and fair elections in the future.