NEW YORK (August 13, 2020) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the false reelection of Alexander Lukashenko in rigged elections held on Sunday in Belarus, and demands an immediate halt to the government’s crackdown on peaceful protests.
According to the official results, Lukashenko, Belarus’ dictator since 1994, received 80% of the votes, while opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya received just 10%. However, leaked unofficial results and exit polls from foreign embassies strongly suggest that Tikhanovskaya won the presidential election in a landslide.
“After more than 25 years, the Belarusian people have had enough of this dictator and have demonstrated their desire for change in a peaceful and overwhelming vote,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “We call on the dictatorship of Belarus to allow for an immediate and peaceful transition to democracy.”
On Sunday evening, protests erupted across Belarus as officials announced the fraudulent results of the election, with tens of thousands of Belarusians taking to the streets to protest the obvious manipulation of the results. Amid an internet shutdown aimed at preventing protesters from organizing, Belarusians demanded that the government respect the true outcome of the elections, and in some cases, Belarusians gathered outside of polling stations, and forced the election committees to reveal the real results.
The protests were swiftly followed by what observers have deemed the most brutal government crackdown ever seen in Belarus. Peaceful protesters were chased down and beaten with truncheons. Riot police used tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters. In addition, journalists were targeted by state security agents, captured off the streets, and bundled into the backs of vans.
The protests have continued since Sunday, with protesters adopting the “Be Like Water” tactic, appearing spontaneously in different locations across Belarus’ capital city, Minsk, making it difficult for riot police to stifle the protests all at once. In an attempt to prevent the spread of information, government officials shut off the internet every evening around 7:00 pm.
As the protests have taken place, increasingly brutal police tactics have been used in response. Recently, the Belarusian interior ministry confirmed that one protester was killed in Minsk apparently when an explosive device went off in his hand. Thousands of videos that have surfaced on the internet, have also shown the emergence of new forms of police brutality. In addition to the continued use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades, police cars have started ramming cars and riot police smash car windows; in some cases these attacks have been directed at cars honking in support of protests, while others seem to be unrelated.
In order to bolster riot police, special forces have also been utilized by the government in an attempt to crush the protests. In Brest, a city located in the western part of Belarus, the government admitted to using live ammunition against protesters. Videos on social media circulated with soldiers bragging about receiving live ammunition to use against protesters. Violence has continued through the night, as riot police chased down protesters, even going so far as to enter apartment buildings to detain people. A second man was killed in Gomel, a city in the eastern part of the country, after riot police arrested him off the street. His cause of death is unknown.
In addition to the Belarusian government’s crackdown on protests, opposition leader Tikhanovskaya disappeared on Monday night after entering the headquarters of the Central Election Commission (CEC) to file a complaint, according to reports on social media. Her whereabouts were unknown even by her staff members for several hours. It wasn’t until the next day that she emerged, safe, in Lithuania.That same day, she published a video that watchers identified as the CEC building, reading from a script and imploring people to stop protesting and accept the results of the elections. It is highly likely that Tikhanovskaya was threatened and pressured by the Belarusian officials into producing the video as a condition of her family’s safety.
So far, at least 7,000 people have been detained, and there are reports that protesters are being tortured in detention centers. Hundreds of people have been injured, mostly as a result of police beatings. On Wednesday, separate protests by women and doctors arose against the extreme brutality of the police forces. The independent journalist union reports at least 55 arrests and 17 cases of violent assault against journalists, even after they displayed their press credentials. Several Belarusian celebrities, including Nobel Prize Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, called on Lukashenko to resign before the violence spun out of control. A prominent government TV presenter publicly resigned on account of the extreme brutality of the protests.
EU leaders plan to meet on Friday to discuss reimposing sanctions on Belarus. Sanctions were lifted by the EU in 2015 after a relatively peaceful election.
“U.S. and European leaders must act immediately in order to prevent further violence and bloodshed,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. “It is high time for the EU to pass the Global Magnitsky Act, and sanction those that commit gross human rights violations. U.S. and EU leaders should demand that Lukashenko stop the violence of the police. We urge the international community to support the plight of the Belarusian people. The violence must stop. The dictator must go.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For media inquiries and interviews, please contact Natalia Ciolko at [email protected]