On 25 March 2017, Belarusians marked Freedom Day (Dzen Voli), an unofficial holiday to commemorate the creation of Belarusian People’s Republic in 1918. It is celebrated by democratic-minded Belarusians and usually opposed by the authorities. This year, the Lukashenka regime cracked down on protesters in Minsk, hard. Here is what you need to know.
Read the liveblog: Freedom Day in Belarus: crackdown on mass protests, detentions
1. Human rights activists say up to 1,000 protesters were detained.
Demonstrations were held in 5 cities – Minsk, Brest, Homel, Grodno, and Vitsebsk. Only two of them were authorized by the authorities – in Brest and Grodno. In the provinces, small relatively peaceful demonstrations were held. In Minsk, protests were brutally dispersed. In result,
The photographs show the Minsk rally and its crackdown today:
2. Hundreds of people were detained in the month of protests that preceded the Freedom Day arrestsю
The demonstrations today protests follow a month of rallies against the “social parasite tax,” which for the first time since the mid-90s involved a record number people from different social strata and took part in the provinces, not only in the capital Minsk. In them, Belarusians protested against a state decree which required the unemployed to pay a tax for being “social parasites,” which was imposed as Russia becomes less eager to subsidize Belarus. Even the decision to postpone the deadline for paying the tax did not calm people down.
Hundreds of Belarusians were brutally detained and arrested by representatives of law enforcement agencies who were operating in the streets in civilian clothes, including at rallies sanctioned by the authorities. Over 17 February – 15 March 2017, 337 people were detained, 137 arrested, 57 fined, and 34 had criminal cases opened against them, according to the Viasna human rights center. Many are still in jails.
3. The rallies have turned into protests against the regime.
Protesters have taken to the streets with slogans such as, “Decree No.3, Lukashenko, go away”, “We’re tired of you”, “No to dictatorship”, “Live Belarus!,” and a number of opposition representatives – Statkevich, Neklyayev, Dashkevich – are trying to turn these protests towards politics and not only seek the abolition of the decree, but the resignation of the government and Lukashenko especially, Hromadske reported.
The opposition is disorganized and experts consider it unlikely that they will be able to open a dialogue with the authorities. Meanwhile, the degree of public discontent is not going anywhere and the situation remains tense. An even more severe crackdown is possible. It is unclear what will happen next.
4. Western countries don’t really care about Lukashenka’s repressions.
Although there have been the regular statements from human rights networks condemning the government’s crackdown on protesters, the visits of diplomats to Belarus tell a different story. German and Belgian high-standing diplomats visiting Minsk in the full swing of the repressions had neither postponed the visits nor criticized the government’s actions, with Belgium’s deputy prime minister de facto condoning the administrative arrests, according to Igor Gubarevich from the Belarus Digest. Additionally, Lukashenka just received an invitation to visit the USA.
5. You can write Lukashenka to show the world is watching.
International pressure will show Lukashenka that he can’t get away with such a brutal crackdown and that the world is watching his actions. Write a letter to the Belarusian authorities demanding that the imprisoned activists are set free, like Libereco – Partnership for human rights proposes. You can find a template here.
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