Lukashenka jails and expells all opposition leaders but Belarus protests show no sign of decline

It is estimated that 100,000-150,000 came to the "March of Heroes" held this Sunday in Minsk, roughtly on par with the protests held on previous weekends. Photo: tut.by 

International

Editor’s Note

Following the imprisonment and expulsion of the leaders of Belarus’ opposition movement, self-proclaimed president of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on 14 September, reportedly securing an emergency Russian loan of $1.5 bn. It is expected that this loan will go towards propping up the power vertical of Lukashenka’s regime, the siloviki, who for nearly 40 days in a row have been ceaselessly, and often brutally, suppressing unprecedented protests against rigged elections. Expect further confrontation, as the protests have no sign of stopping: the numbers of Belarusians ready to risk their health and freedom are still extraordinarily high for the sixth weekend in a row.

All opposition leaders jailed or expelled

If self-proclaimed president-elect Alyaksandr Lukashenka thought he would defuse the protests shaking Belarus for the 38th day in a row by crippling the opposition leaders, he was wrong.

It was predictable: three days after the falsified elections on 9 August, where Lukashenka claimed an improbable landslide victory, his lapdogs hounded and threatened Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the probable winner of that falsified plebiscite, into leaving the country, but this didn’t deter the protesters. They kept taking to the streets all over the country in hundreds of thousands, disregarding police arrests and harrowing stories of brutality in detention centers, despite their formal leader being outside the country.

Having recovered from her forced flight, on 14 August Tsikhanouskaya called to set up a Coordination Council to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power from the dictator.

One month later, Lukashenka succeeded in jailing or expelling the Presidium of this Council.

He did not succeed in quelling the protests.

His last week’s stunt with kidnapping Maria Kalesnikava, the last woman from the iconic trio that shook his reign these presidential elections made international headlines, not in the last because the bold opposition leader tore up her passport on the Ukrainian border and escaped out the rear car window to evade forced deportation.

We know about this because her associates Anton Radniankov and Ivan Krautsov did not escape that fate and told of the Belarusian siloviki’s operation at a press conference in Kyiv.

Kidnapped Belarus opposition leader tore up passport to resist deportation to Ukraine

In a complaint lodged with Belarus’ Investigative Committee, Kalesnikava has since provided more details about her abduction:

“They threatened me with death, and I perceived those threats as genuine. For example, they said that if I don’t leave Belarus willingly, I’ll still be moved out, in one piece or several. They threatened to put me in prison for 25 years, to ’cause problems’ for me at the detention center and prison, and these I also perceived as genuine threats. I didn’t agree to their demands, so they put me in a cell for an hour.

 

The people I mentioned have made genuine threats against my life and health. During my illegal detention at the Organized Crime and Corruption Unit and KGB, I used every opportunity to tell the nearby agents that I’ve been kidnapped and demanded to let my location be known to my lawyer and my father.

 

After the KGB agents understood that I won’t leave Belarus willingly, they put a bag on my head, shoved me in a van, and took me to the border with Ukraine where they tried to force me to leave the country.

 

After I tore my passport to pieces, thus eliminating a possibility of entering Ukraine, I’ve been put into a van again and taken to the base of Mozyr border guard detachment, where I’ve been held until the evening of September 8.”

This sign of a participant of the March of Heroes on 13 September in Minsk hails Maria Kalesnikava’s torn passport. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

At the time of the kidnapping, only two out of the seven Presidium members were free: lawyer Maxim Znak (however, he was snatched off the street the next day), and the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, who was safeguarded from a visitation of Lukashenka’s siloviki by a thoughtful international coalition of ambassadors hanging out at her apartment.

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Pavel Latushko, the former Minister of Culture and former diplomat, left the country citing KGB pressure. Lawyer Liliya Vlasova was jailed; so was Siarhei Dylevsky, a representative of the seminal Minsk tractor works. Belarusian Christian Democracy party co-chair and Tsikhanouskaya’s trustee Volha Kovalkova was jailed but then forcefully deported by the siloviki to Poland.

As Alexievich does not actively participate in the work of the presidium for health reasons, this leaves the 51 member-strong Coordination Council officially beheaded. Tsikhanouskaya, who continues advocating for the Belarusian cause beyond the country, has suggested more Presidium members be elected.

Today, twelve human rights organizations have declared that the Coordination Council members Maxim Znak, Maria Kalesnikava, and her lawyer Ilya Salei who was also imprisoned, are political prisoners. The statement was published by the Viasna human rights advocacy group. Kalesnikava, Salei, and Znak are being prosecuted for their alleged calls of seizure of power.

Women’s March, 12 September

If Lukashenka’s calculation was to injure the protest movement, it failed, The Presidium played no role in organizing the muli-hundred-thousand rallies that show no sign of subsiding for the sixth weekend in a row.

This Saturday, 12 September, saw the third Women’s March take place in Minsk, with around 10,000 participants.

This march was different from the first one, when the women marched pretty much freely: the riot police attempted to disperse the protest, detained 46 participants, and even wrestled with the legendary Nina Baginskaya, the grandmother who became an icon of the protest movement:

A woman in a wedding dress painted in the colors of the Belarusian “opposition” national flag greets participants of the Women’s March. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

The sign with the underwear refers to the guerilla protests of Belarusians who find creative ways to display the banned national white-red-white flag. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

Sveta = Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Masha = Maria Kalesnikava. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

Women attempt to block a paddy wagon containing detained participants of the Women’s March. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

Photo: tut.by

Women link arms facing off the riot police. Photo: Vadim Zamirovskyi, tut.by

Participants of the Women’s March are dispersed by riot police. Photo: Vadim Zamirovskyi, tut.by

March of Heroes, 13 September

The next day, Sunday, had all the trademarks of all post-election Sundays in the Belarusian capital, Minsk: blocked streets, fences and barbed wire in the center of the city, military equipment, water cannons, cars for dispersing crowds, paddy wagons and minivans without license plates, uniformed and plainclothed riot police, but always with covered faces, closed metro stations and shopping malls, no mobile internet. However, some things were different: anti-Lukashenka Telegram channels announced that the route would finish in Drazdy, the region where Lukashenka and other top officials live.

Journalists present at the protests on Sunday estimated that 100,000-150,000 came to the “March of Heroes” held this Sunday in Minsk, roughtly on par with the protests held on previous weekends. Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

Photo: Olga Shukailo, tut.by

“Lukashenka, this is not your wave.” Photo: Daria Buriakina, tut.by

Photo: Daria Buriakina, tut.by

Photo: Daria Buriakina, tut.by

Photo: Olga Sh,ukailo, tut.by

“Athens predicted victory
Our foe will fall – he will run away like a coward
And if he won’t – we’ll dump some pills in the old man’s tea
As they say, long live Belarus!”
Photo: Vadim Zamirovskyi, tut.by

Despite blocked streets and arrests, a portion of the protesters did manage to approach Drozdy:

Photo: Daria Buriakina, tut.by

Protesters were detained and brutally dispersed, but this time this was done not only by uniformed riot police, but plainclothed men wielding weapons.

Over 500 were detained in Minsk, according to the police.

Photo: Olga Sh,ukailo, tut.by

Photo: Vadim Zamirovskyi, tut.by

Similar protests were held on Sunday in at least 12 other Belarusian cities.

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