Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has ramped up his brutal repression with a series of raids on opposition leaders and a string of politically motivated jailings that has led the UN to accuse his regime of “crimes against humanity.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted over a 100 searches as part of the sweep looking for “terrorists” that was ordered by Lukashenko after a recent attack damaged a Russian long-range radar aircraft A-50 stationed at the Machulishchy airfield outside Minsk.
Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Gennady Kazakevich says that over 1,000 Belarusians are officially wanted for "extremist" activities, reports the Kyiv Independent. The ministry is now looking for a total of 2,562 “extremists” after the list was expanded by another 31 names last week.
In the same week the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Belarusian and the UN issued a report accusing the regime of “crimes against humanity”, including politically-motivated trials.
Trials and jail
Belarusian courts recently sentenced exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to 15 years in prison for leading protests against the country's authoritarian leader in August 2020.
Tikhanovskaya was sentenced in absentia on charges of high treason and "conspiracy to seize power" after fleeing to neighbouring Lithuania following mass protests that broke out immediately after massively falsified elections results were declared that returned incumbent Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to office.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski was also given ten years in jail, along with three of his colleagues, on politically motivated charges in the first week of March.
In the most recent trials, Belarusian authorities sentenced two members of TUT.by to 12 years in prison in the same week. TUT.by is one of the country’s leading independent online media outlets and provides extensive coverage of the mass protests that started after the falsified presidential elections in August 2020. Most of its staff have either been arrested or have fled into exile abroad.
The trial of Maryna Zolatava, TUT.by's chief editor, and Liudmila Chekina, the outlet's former director, began in January and took place behind closed doors in Minsk, the Kyiv Independent reports. The two women were charged with tax evasion, "organising activities aimed at inciting racial, ethnic, religious or social hatred, and public calls aimed at damaging the national security of Belarus. Three other defendants in the case, Volha Loyka, Alena Talkachova and Katsyaryna Tkacheka, are being tried in absentia as they have fled the country. Human rights watchdogs have called the trial "politically motivated."
Facing brutal conditions in Belarus’ notoriously unreformed jails, Belarusian opposition journalist Ihar Losik attempted suicide on March 15, RFE/RL reported, citing Belarusian human rights watchdog Viasna. Losik allegedly cut his hand and neck after going on hunger strike in solitary confinement. Serving a 15-year sentence, Losik was a freelance writer for RFE/RL and the author of a Telegram channel that was prominent during the mass protests two years ago.
The European Union has vowed to expand sanctions on Minsk, and EU member states have been urged to prepare court cases against Belarusian authorities involved in human rights violations. Additionally, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijarto was condemned for a visit to Minsk in February and criticised for contradicting the EU's policy on Belarus and Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.
In response, the Belarusian parliament's upper house rejected the European Parliament's statement, dismissing all assessments of the situation in the country.
The EU condemnation comes on top of a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that accuses the Belarusian government of committing "crimes against humanity" following the cracking down on dissidents and their brutal treatment at the hands of the police. The report is based on interviews with 207 victims and witnesses, as well as over 2,500 pieces of evidence, including audio-visual material and medical and court records, the Kyiv Independent reports.
The report alleges that they have used "unnecessary and disproportionate" force, arrested protestors and dissidents arbitrarily, and subjected them to torture. The report also documents over 100 cases of sexual and gender-based violence and hundreds of torture cases.
The government in Minsk dismissed the report, calling the UN a "a lobbying tool for Western countries' anti-Belarusian agenda at the United Nations and the Human Rights Council."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said that the Belarusian government owes it to its people to "bring a halt to this mass repression and to conduct impartial and transparent investigations to ensure that those responsible for grave violations are held accountable."