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UN experts demand end to crackdown on protesters in Belarus ahead of elections

Presidential elections are due to be held in Belarus on 9 August 2020

GENEVA (1 July 2020) – UN experts today demanded that Belarus refrains from violence against peaceful protesters ahead of 9 August presidential elections. They urged the Government to abandon its policy of arbitrary arrests, violence and intimidation against civil society activists.

The independent experts said that since 18 June alone, at least 200 political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and other members of civil society have been arrested during peaceful demonstrations across the country. The protests aimed at showing solidarity with nearly 500 other activists detained since May while exercising their right to give and gather signatures for nominating presidential candidates. 

“We strongly condemn the Government’s continuous policy of mass arrests of members of the civil society who are peacefully exercising their fundamental rights,” the experts said. We firmly condemn policies and actions that restrict Belarusians’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.” 

The latest protests followed the arrest on 18 June of the country’s main opposition candidate, Viktor Babaryko, under investigation for alleged financial crimes. 

It was reported to the experts that unidentified men in plain clothes began to arbitrarily arrest journalists and passers-by in several towns of Belarus, while anti-riot police used excessive force against peaceful protesters. Many of those detained were beaten, intimidated, ill-treated and either received fines or sentences of up to 15 days of administrative detention on charges of violating the procedure for holding mass events. 

“We are concerned that the approach of the Government towards peaceful protesters and journalists trying to perform their work is becoming more and more violent and abusive. We would like to reiterate that restrictions to human rights, and notably civil and political rights, are particularly serious when done in the lead-up to elections,” the experts said. 

Ahead of the election campaign, we urge the Government to immediately stop cracking down on peaceful protesters and other members of civil society, including journalists and bloggers. 

“A pluralistic environment in which all people can safely and freely exercise their right to seek and disseminate information, and their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association is essential to ensure the integrity of the ongoing electoral process, and the legitimacy of its outcome,” the experts said.

*The experts: Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and associationMs. Mary LawlorSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. David KayeSpecial Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expressionDiego García-SayánSpecial Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

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