Belarus is a former communist country which declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Its President Alexander Lukashenko- known as “The Last Dictator of Europe” as well- who has been in power since 1994, has showed zero tolerance towards pluralism, cracking down on public protests and imprisoning opposition leaders and journalists. In addition, the Belarusian civil society is totally suppressed and the Belarusian people lack of freedom of speech and expression resulting in low level democratic values.
The re-election of Lukashenko for a fourth term in December 2010 sparked mass street protests by the opposition, which led to the arrest of several candidates who had run against him.
Currently Belarus belongs to the Customs Union along with Kazakhstan and Russia, while Moscow plans to transform it into a “Eurasian Union”- seen by many as a revival of the Soviet Union.
On 23rd September 2012, parliamentary elections were held in Belarus. The elections, which were described by observers as the most bleak and boring of the Lukashenko era, exposed the deep crisis facing both the regime and the Belarusian opposition. Following the announcement a week before election day that sections of the opposition were withdrawing their candidates and calling for an election boycott, only 313 candidates actually took part in the elections for 110 seats in the House of Representatives, an organ which is largely devoid of influence. Domestic and international election observers have evidence of violations of both Belarusian electoral law and international obligations in all phases of the election process – from the formation of the election commissions through to the vote-counting process on election day. The election turnout, which was officially recorded as being 74.4 percent, was probably, according to election observers’ estimates, around 10 to 15 percent lower. A low election turnout and sociological poll results point to the people losing trust in the government and the illegitimate state elite becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of society.
Whilst struggling with Lukashenko, the European Union had, as of March 2012, brought sanctions against the Belarusian President and 242 members of his state administration, as well as several businessmen close to him (bans on travel, freezing of assets and bank accounts). This is, regardless of the measures’ relevance for politics and the economy of the country as whole, an act of solidarity with those politically persecuted by the regime, who are suffering in prison as victims of the political justice system. Thirteen political prisoners, amongst them opposition leaders and human rights campaigners arrested in December 2010 after the presidential elections, such as the party leader Nikolai Statkevich and the human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, are in work camps or prisons where some are subjected to particularly harsh conditions.
The international community is also anxiously observing the deteriorating situation in the area of human rights. On 5th July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to establish a Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Belarus. The UN Human Rights Council demands the immediate release of political prisoners, an investigation into allegations of torture and the suspension of all criminal prosecution and of activities of persecution carried out by the administration and the police against citizens of the country simply for acting according to their basic constitutional rights.
Let´s set Belarus Free! a.k.a. more pressure from the EU needed.
Belarus is known as the “last European dictatorship” what reflects the reality of our
European neighbour country. Being so close to us within the old continent, but dissociating
from us, Belarus is a country where freedom of the press, the establishment of NGOs or
respect for human rights is just a fading dream. Thus country that is just “around the corner”
becomes a very distant and different territory which European democracy cannot enter.
Foreign policy is one of the key responsibilities of a nation state. The EU Member states
are willing to tear down the gates and help to develop democracy and make the European
process of implementing legal principles within this country real – these actions that could
potentially succeed are lapsing due to the Lukashenko´s strength and lacking authority and
effective tools of the EU states in foreign policy.
The Young European Federalists ask the Vice-President of the Commission and High
Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, to
foster greater co-operation between Member States and European Institutions to put the
Belarusian dictatorship to a stop.
The current internal situation in Belarus needs to be improved in terms of implementation
of fundamental rights and freedoms for Belarusian nationals so that the EU should continue
to apply its restrictive measures such as the freezing of assets and reintroduce the travel and
visa restrictions against high of the undemocratic regime by lifting the current suspension.
Simultaneously the EU authorities ought to engage with Belarusian ones, create a space
not only for ongoing discussions but also for implementing democratic principles in reality.
The crucial issues concerning bringing electoral laws according to international standards,
abolishment of death penalty and banning persecutions led by executive power should be
According to the 2012 report of Amnesty international
Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly increased during the year. The government continued to carry out executions. Prisoners of conscience remained in detention and were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The right to a fair trial was restricted.
Social unrest increased due to a worsening economic situation, and the government responded with restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.
Belarus is the last country in Europe, which still carries out executions.
The government executed two men during the year and passed two death sentences.
Andrei Burdyka and one other man were executed between 14 and 19 July. Andrei Burdyka’s mother received official confirmation of his death three months later. The other family had not been notified by the end of the year. The executions were carried out despite a formal request sent on 17 December 2010 by the UN Human Rights Committee to the government of Belarus not to execute the two men until the case had been considered by the Committee.
Torture and other ill-treatment
There was no independent system of monitoring places of detention. Complaints against law enforcement officers were usually rejected by prosecutors, and those who complained faced reprisals from police.
On 28 February, after being released on bail, Alyaksei Mihalevich, a presidential candidate charged with organizing a demonstration in Minsk on 19 December 2010, held a press conference. He alleged that he and other detainees had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including being strip-searched up to six times a day, and being forced to stand in stress positions.
Zmitser Dashkevich, who was sentenced to two years’ hard labour on 24 March in connection with the demonstration in December 2010, was placed in solitary confinement eight times during the year. Conditions in solitary confinement include being denied exercise, refused bedding and deprived of sleep. Prisoners are also prevented from lying or sitting on bunks during the day.
Freedom of expression
In March, journalist Andrzej Poczobut, was charged with “insulting the President” and “libelling the President” for articles that he had written for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. On 5 June, he received a three-year suspended prison sentence.
Freedom of association
Registered and unregistered human rights groups faced prosecution and harassment throughout the year. The Law on Public Associations changed on 3 October to prohibit Belarusian NGOs from holding funds or bank accounts abroad. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission commented that the Criminal Code, which makes participation in the activities of non-registered political parties, or other public associations, a crime, “was incompatible with a democratic society.”
On 4 August, the Chair of the NGO Viasna Human Rights Centre (Viasna), Ales Bialiatski, was arrested. He was charged on 12 August with “concealment of income on a large scale”, which carries a sentence of up to seven years. The charges related to the use of a personal bank account in Lithuania to support Viasna’s human rights work. Viasna was derecognized by the Belarusian authorities in 2003 and as such was barred from opening a bank account in Belarus. The trial began on 2 November. and on 24 November Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience and demanded his unconditional release.
On 12 January, the Ministry of Justice formally censured the Belarusian Helsinki Committee for sending a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, concerning restrictions faced by lawyers. The Ministry complained that the report was an “attempt to discredit the Republic of Belarus in the eyes of the world.” In June, the organization was issued with a back-dated tax bill, relating to European Commission funds received in 2002 (which had originally been exempt from tax). The tax bill was accompanied by a second warning from the Ministry of Justice for breaching NGO regulations. In December, the Ministry for Taxes and Duties applied to the Ministry of Justice for the closure of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
Freedom of assembly
Restrictions on all forms of public gatherings increased during the year. On 3 October Parliament approved amendments to the Law on Public Assemblies. Any kind of pre-planned public gathering requires official permission: organizers are required to report “financial sources” used for the event; and they are not allowed to publicize the event until official permission is granted, which might not be until five days prior to the event. Law enforcement officers also have wider powers to make audio and video recordings, limit participants’ access to the event and carry out body searches.
Throughout May, June and July, there were regular weekly “silent protests”. Groups of people throughout the country would stroll wordlessly, applaud or use their mobile phone alarms simultaneously. Viasna reported that the authorities detained more than 2,000 people involved in “silent protests”, and some of them were beaten and subjected to other forms of disproportionate force. Up to 80 per cent of those initially detained were subsequently sentenced to between five and 15 days’ administrative detention or fined. On 29 July, the government introduced a draconian new law. It required government permission for any gatherings carrying out “action or inaction intended as a form of public expression of socio-political attitude or as a protest”.
Human rights lawyer Roman Kislyak was detained on 16 October after walking alone down the main street of Brest with a megaphone asking for the release of Ales Bialiatski. He was charged with simultaneously picketing and marching. He was brought before an administrative court the following morning, and the judge returned the case to the police for further investigation. On 28 October the Lenin District Court in Brest imposed a fine equivalent to €3, and the appeal court upheld the judgement.
Prisoners of conscience
Between January and June, trials continued against leading political activists in connection with their participation in, or organization of, the mainly peaceful demonstration in Minsk on 19 December 2010. At the end of the year six remained in detention in connection with these events, all of them prisoners of conscience. Zmitser Bandarenka was sentenced to two years’ hard labour on 26 March. Andrei Sannikau was sentenced to five years on 14 May. Pavel Sevyarynets was sentenced to three years on 16 May. Mykalaj Statkevich was sentenced to six years on 26 May. On 24 March, Zmitser Dashkevich and Eduard Lobau were sentenced to two and four years respectively for hooliganism. Others, including Andrei Sannikau’s wife Iryna Khalip, were given suspended sentences. Six other prisoners of conscience were released during the year: three were informed that their cases had been closed, and one was released on bail and sought asylum abroad.
Despite legislative guarantees, people who were charged following the demonstration on 19 December 2010 had infrequent access to their lawyers and were not able to meet them in private. Some lawyers reported that they were often refused access to their clients on the grounds that no meeting rooms were available. The government reported that there were only two rooms available for lawyers at the KGB detention centre in Minsk and for that reason meetings had been restricted.
Some lawyers who defended opposition leaders accused of organizing mass disorder in December 2010 were disbarred. In March 2011, Pavel Sapelko, who had defended Andrei Sannikau, was disbarred. On 7 August, Tamara Sidorenko, Alyaksei Mihalevich’s lawyer, lost her licence.
On 10 October 2012, the Belarusian authorities denied a visa to Amnesty International’s researcher on Belarus, Heather McGill. The refusal to grant access to Amnesty International now when representatives of the organization have been visiting the country unhindered for over 20 years to carry out human rights work highlights the current deterioration in human rights in Belarus.