Hundreds Arrested, Beaten Amidst Protests in Belarus

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

MINSK, Belarus — According to a Belarusian human rights group, over 400 people were arrested, and many were beaten, in Belarus on March 25 amidst protests against a tax on under-employed citizens.  The law, known as the “anti-parasite” law, demands a $250 tax on anyone who works less than six months each year who does not register with the state labor exchange.  Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko insists that the tax will not be eliminated and believes it disciplines those who are “workshy.”  Lukashenko has, however, suspended the tax for the year.  Opponents to the new law believe it punishes those who cannot find work.

An opposition activist who was detained at a protest is escorted by a police officer upon his arrival for a court hearing in Minsk on Monday, March 27, 2017. (Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post)

About 700 people marched on Saturday in a demonstration along Minsk’s main street, however were blocked by police holding shields and clubs.  According to demonstrator Alexander Ponomarev, the police were “beating the participants, dragging women by the hair to buses.”  More arrests took place on Sunday when other demonstrators demanded to know the whereabouts of those arrested the previous day.

Prior to the weekend, over 100 opposition supporters were sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.  Police raided human rights group Vesna’s office and detained more than 50 people.  20 journalists were among those arrested according to the Belarusian Journalists’ Association.  BBC Belarus correspondent Sergei Kozlovsky told reporters that “[the police] grabbed everybody indiscriminately, both young and old” and that they were “treated very harshly.” Known opposition supported Vladimir Neklayev was allegedly removed from a train by police as he was traveling to Minsk overnight.

About 150 of those arrested were sentenced to jail terms of up to 25 days.  Opponents of Lukashenko ran the protests in Minsk and in other cities across Belarus.  Vladimir Lobkovich, of Vesna, called the jail sentences a “judicial conveyor.”

Demonstrators shouted slogans such as “Shame!” and Basta! (Enough!)” and displayed the opposition’s red and white flag.  “Petrol bombs and “arms-laden cars” were found near the protest in Minsk according to the foreign ministry.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Dzmitryy Mironchyk called the actions of the police “completely appropriate.”  Mironchyk said that because the rallies were unauthorized, “specific consequences” would have been justified “in any country of the world.”  He further commented that no tear gas or water cannons were used by the police.

 

For more information, please see:

U.S. News & World Report — Rights Group: More than 1,000 Arrested in Belarus Protests — 27 March 2017

The Washington Post — Rights Group: More than 1,000 Arrested in Belarus Protests — 27 March 2017

BBC — Belarus Protests: Government Defends Mass Arrests — 26 March 2017

Hawaii News Now — Belarus Police Arrest over 400 Protesters; Many are Beaten — 25 March 2017

 

Belarusian Journalist Murdered in Car Bombing

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine —  Prominent Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed this past week after an explosive device placed on his car detonated in Kiev, Ukraine.  Sheremet worked for the news reporting website Ukrainska Pravda, and was traveling to host a morning radio show at the radio station Radio Vesti when the explosive was detonated.   Ukrainska Pravda is a respected site known for its tendency to cover media topics relating to corruption.

The car Sheremet was driving exploded on a main road in Kiev, Ukraine (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Investigators suspect a homemade explosion device attached to the bottom of the car with 400-600 grams of a substance similar to TNT was detonated via remote control.  The explosion itself occurred about a half mile away from a popular protest site in Ukraine.  At the time of the explosion, Sheremet was driving his partner Olena Pritula’s car.  Pritula is the owner of Ukrainska Pravda, leaving police to wonder whether Sheremet was actually the target of the explosion.

Many speculate that Sheremet was targeted because of his line of work.  Sheremet was one of several well-known journalists who moved from Russia to Ukraine, where restrictions on the media are known to be looser than they are in Russia.  Sheremet was previously jailed for his critical reports regarding political oppression against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and was known to be an advocate for independent media in Ukraine.  As an expert in political corruption, Sheremet was widely known for his criticism of the Kremlin and mistakes made by Ukraine in its 2014 revolution and ensuing separation from Russia.

Police are investigating the possibility that the attack was an attempt by Russia to destabilize Ukraine, however the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced this notion.  The Ministry labeled Sheremet as a “known and respected journalist in Russia and a top professional.”  Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, stated that the Kremlin was “seriously disturbed” by the attack, and expressed his hopes for a “rapid and impartial investigation.”

Ukrainian President Peter Poroshenko, however, is “not excluding the possibility of some foreign interest” in the explosion, and hints at the involvement of Russia in the killing.  Poroshenko has requested the assistance of foreign agencies from the United States and the European Union to assist in the investigation.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Pavel Sheremet: Murdered Journalist Buried in Belarus — 23 July 2016

NBC — Car Bomb Murder of Pavel Sheremet Dashes Hopes in Post-Maidan Ukraine — 23 July 2016

CNN — Journalist Pavel Sheremet Killed in Kiev — 20 July 2016

The Guardian — Car Bomb Kills Pioneering Journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kiev — 20 July 2016

NY Times — Pavel Sheremet, Journalist in Ukraine, is Killed in Car Bombing — 20 July 2016

Members of Polish Ethnic Group Jailed and Fined in Belarus

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

HRODNA, Belarus –  On Sunday, police in Belarus arrested approximately forty members of a banned Polish cultural group, the Union of Poles (ZPB).  Members of the ZPB were arrested as they travelled to a court hearing in the  northwestern town of Volozhyn.

The ZPB, a nonpolitical organization with approximately 20,000 members, promotes Polish language and culture among ethnic Poles living in Belarus. It has been banned for the past five years, ever since it elected Anzhelika Borys as it’s leader in 2005.  The ZPB is currently the largest NGO in Belarus.

A protest was held on February 10, 2010, after police seized a building owned by ZPB, which housed the ZPB’s headquarters. Members of the ZPB were travelling to the court in Volzhyn on Sunday in order to attend the court hearing regarding the confiscation of the house when they were arrested by Belarusian police. 

The Polish government  has condemned the actions of Belarusian authorities, and recalled the its ambassador from Belarus.

Photo: Anzhelika Borys, Chairwoman of the ZPB, elected in 2005. [Source: RFE/RL]
Photo: Anzhelika Borys, Chairwoman of the ZPB, elected in 2005.
Three ZPB members were sentenced to jail today by a court in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna, while dozens of others remain in detention. The court fined Anzhelika Borys, ZPB Chairwoman, one million Belarusian rubles ($360), while ZPB Deputy Chairman Meczislaw Jaskiewicz, spokesman Igor Bancer, and Council Chairman Andrzej Poczobut were sentenced to five days in jail.  Borys has gone into hiding to avoid being taken into militia custody, and she has reportedly given her mobile phone to Bancer to avoid being traced.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrzej Kremer, told the AFP news agency that the Polish government was:  “deeply worried by the operations being pursued against the representatives of the Polish minority in Belarus.”

Polish media reported that Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, has given the Belarusian Foreign Minister, Syarhey Martynau, a letter for President Lukashenko warning him that if Minsk continued to violate the rights of its Polish minority, the Polish government would ban Belarusian government officials from entering Poland and would recommend that Belarus be blocked from entering the EU.

Roughly 400,000 ethnic Poles currently live in Belarus. Human rights groups have accused the Belarusian government of repressing the rights of ethnic Poles living in Belarus. The Belarusian government only recognizes a breakaway faction of the Union of Poles which has declared its loyalty to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. 

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and human rights activists have criticized his authoritarian tactics, which he has used to stifle dissent.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Belarus arrests members of ethnic Polish group – 15 February 2010

RFE – Belarus Fines, Gives Jail Terms to Ethnic Poles – 15 February 2010

thenews.pl – Militia arrests more Poles in Belarus – 15 February 2010