Just days after Belarus’ Prosecutor General Andrei Shved announced that his office had launched a criminal investigation against exiled Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) has added her name to a list of terrorists and put her on an international terror watch list.
The website of the Belarusian State Security Committee says, “The KGB Investigation Department is investigating a criminal case opened by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus against the participants of the BYPOL initiative on the fact of organizing acts of terrorism in the cities of Borisov and Minsk on March 25, 2021, committed by citizen V.A. It was established that S. Tikhanovskaya, P. Latushko, as well as 15 citizens of the Republic of Belarus who are abroad, were involved in the illegal activities of this unregistered organization.”
It goes on to say, “18 persons were involved as defendants in a criminal case under part 4 of article 16 and part 3 of article 289 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (an act of terrorism committed by an organized group). The defendants are on the international wanted list.”
The Belarusian KGB says, “Documents have been prepared for the extradition of S. Tikhanovskaya and P. Latushko from Lithuania and Poland, respectively. All persons involved in the criminal case are included in the List of Organizations and Individuals Involved in Terrorist Activities.”
The outcome of the August 9, 2020 election in which President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory, has been widely disputed and there have been protests in Belarus ever since. Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was forced into exile and is currently living in Lithuania, from where she continues to protest Lukashenko’s regime and demand release of political prisoners and journalists.
Meanwhile, in a recently released report the US State Department has minced no words and called Belarus “an authoritarian state” and that the August 9 presidential election has “fallen well short of international standards.”
The report provides a long list of human rights abuses in Belarus saying, “Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces; torture in detention facilities and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, internet blockages, and the existence of laws regarding criminal libel, slander, and defamation of government officials; overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including the imposition of criminal penalties for calling for a peaceful demonstration and laws penalizing the activities and funding of groups not approved by authorities; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation, including persistent failure to conduct elections according to international standards; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and restrictions on independent trade unions; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.”
The entire report may be read here.
Meanwhile UN experts have demanded an end to police brutality and impunity in Belarus. These experts include Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Seong-Phil Hong; Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a statement released on April 1, they “called on Belarus to end the continued pattern of excessive use of force, arrests, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment against protesters and the repression of journalists and media personnel.”
On 25 March 2021, 176 people reportedly were detained during peaceful protests commemorating Freedom Day, and two days later, seven journalists were among 247 people detained. The UN experts said, “We are alarmed at the high numbers of alleged arbitrary arrest and detention that took place last week which demonstrate a continued pattern of police brutality against demonstrators. We are concerned that, so far, security forces have not been held accountable for excessive use of force both in the pre-electoral period and after the presidential elections on 9 August 2020.” They added, “We are deeply concerned that, instead of bringing perpetrators to justice, the authorities are arbitrarily seeking to silence all forms of dissent, through unjustified violence, intimidation and growingly by bringing criminal charges against those who exercise their fundamental rights, or defend victims of human rights violations.”
*Feature image courtesy Twitter account of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.