In response to the detentions of civic activists and harassment of candidates and the independent media ahead of the presidential election set for August 9, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Over the recent weeks, more than a hundred activists, journalists, and signature collectors for presidential candidates have been detained, and many others have been harassed during peaceful gatherings,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “We have seen repressive tactics used repeatedly ahead of presidential elections in Belarus over the last 15 years. This year, the developing crackdown is particularly cynical due to the government’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic and its blatant disregard for public health safeguards. We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately cease all intimidation, harassment, and detentions of peaceful activists, campaign workers, and journalists, and to implement the recommendations of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on ensuring free and fair elections.”
Since early May, more than a hundred peaceful protesters and journalists have been arrested at rallies in cities across Belarus. On May 29, law enforcement authorities detained blogger and presidential hopeful Sergey Tsikhanousky for 15 days, which eliminated his chances to register as a presidential candidate. Tsikhanousky and eight others have been charged with organizing to violate public order, which carries a possibility of a three-year prison sentence. Over a dozen other activists have been subject to 15-day arrests on charges of participating in unsanctioned rallies, including Valentin Frolov, a representative of Volha Kavalkova’s nomination group; Pavel Sevyarynets, co-chair of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party; and Narodnaya Hramada activist Ryhor Pahartsau.
On June 5, Anaïs Marin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, issued a statement asserting that the arrests infringed on the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly and of expression and had a chilling effect on civil society and independent journalism. Members of the European Parliament Robert Biedron, the chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Belarus, and Petras Austrevicius, the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Belarus, jointly condemned the crackdown and called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all citizens who have been unjustly arrested.