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Belarus: continued crackdown two years on from disputed presidential elections
Belarus

Belarus: continued crackdown two years on from disputed presidential elections

9 August 2022

Today marks two years since the disputed presidential elections that saw Aliaksandr Lukašenka return to a sixth term in office. PEN International and PEN Belarus urge once again for an end to the relentless and violent crackdown that continues to sweep Belarus.

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The crisis in Belarus that broke out in 2020 shows no signs of abating, as the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remain under sustained onslaught. Scores of journalists have been arbitrarily detained, beaten, sentenced to prison or hefty fines for their independent work – 29 media workers remain behind bars, others have had their accreditation revoked. Hundreds of websites, including that of PEN Belarus, have been blocked for their critical reporting. Amendments to the Mass Media Law and to the Law on Mass Gatherings, signed into law in May 2021, make it virtually impossible to report on public protests. Independent civil society organisations have been ‘purged’, with over 270 organisations arbitrarily dissolved by the end of 2021, including PEN Belarus. According to the Human Rights Centre Viasna, over 1200 people were detained on politically motivated grounds as of June 2022. Several individuals, including opposition leaders, have been given prison sentences of 10 years or more. Anti-extremist legislation is being increasingly used to crush dissent. The ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests intensified after the Russian Federation launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, with over a thousand people reportedly detained for expressing their anti-war views.

‘Today, the PEN Community reiterate its solidarity with the brave people of Belarus, who continue to fight for their human rights despite the authorities’ relentless campaign to crush all dissent. The brutality of the Lukašenka regime knows no limit, and its brazen support for the Russian Federation in its war against Ukraine puts independent voices at further risk. We urge the Belarusian authorities to end their crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. All those held for peacefully expressing their views must be immediately and unconditionally released. The harassment and criminal prosecution of independent media and civil society must stop at once’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

The judiciary as an instrument of repression Down arrow

In a damning report published in March 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced a situation of complete impunity in Belarus, stressing that ‘systemic flaws in the rule of law facilitate the use of the judiciary as an instrument of repression and a means to avoid accountability for violations’. Today notably marks one year since the Supreme Court of Belarus ruled to dissolve PEN Belarus. The Court’s ruling, published for the first time today, demonstrates how the judicial system is being systematically abused by the Belarusian authorities to crack down on dissent.

The Ministry of Justice of Belarus claimed that PEN Belarus received foreign donations and failed to register them, that it misused funds, and that materials on its website were ‘political and (or) agitation’ – allegations that PEN Belarus proved to be completely unfounded. As stressed in its statement:

‘PEN Belarus was liquidated in Belarus on 9 August 2021, the anniversary of the presidential elections, by the decision of the Supreme Court. In 2020-2022 we survived inspections by the Ministry of Justice, searches, liquidation, blocking of our website, relocation of the decision-making centre to Warsaw, but we have not stopped our activities for a single day.’

Attacks against the cultural sphere Down arrow

Despite severe challenges, the Belarusian PEN Centre continues its ground-breaking work, including systematically monitoring cultural rights violations. A new report published in July 2022 documents 699 cultural and human rights violations against cultural figures between January and June 2022.

Out of 38 cultural figures sentenced to prison or house arrest during the reporting period, 22 were prosecuted under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus for participating in peaceful protests, and 17 were prosecuted for ‘insulting’ or ‘slandering’ Lukašenka or other government officials, and ‘discrediting Belarus’.

Repression against the Belarusian language and literature continues, with independent publishing houses raided for promoting books by Belarusian writers and in the Belarusian language, and their activities suspended under far-fetched pretences.

Take action Down arrow

Today, the PEN Community stands once again in solidarity with writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, who was arrested on 14 July 2021 and who remains in pre-trial detention in Minsk. Bialiatski is chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna, a leading human rights organisation whose work and members have been repeatedly targeted by the Belarusian authorities. Bialiatski faces up to seven years in prison on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, under Article 243 (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. PEN International calls for his immediate and unconditional release. To take action, and send him solidarity messages, please click here.

The PEN Community further stands in solidarity with philosopher Uladzimir Mackievič, who was sentenced to five years in prison on spurious grounds in June 2022. His trial took place in Minsk behind closed doors. Mackievič said he would not appeal against his sentencing, as he no longer believes in the independence of justice system in Belarus. PEN International continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release. Messages of solidarity can be sent to:

Uladzimir Mackievič

Pre-trial detention center No. 1. 220030

Minsk, vulica Valadarskaha 2

Belarus

For more information about the situation for free expression in Belarus and PEN’s work in the country click here.

Work and publications by PEN Belarus– including weekly newsletters – are available here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org