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Belarus – IBAHRI condemns detention of media and use of force against protesters following elections

Thursday 13 August 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the detention and use of force against peaceful protesters and journalists in the Republic of Belarus, following the announcement of the initial results of the presidential elections on 9 August 2020. According to the Central Election Commission of Belarus, the elections results indicate that incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won with 80.23 per cent of votes. Several organisations, including the European Union and the Council of Europe, claimed that the elections were neither free nor fair, and one of the main opposition candidates, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, stressed that she did not believe the results.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg stated: ‘Attacks on freedoms of assembly and expression threaten the democratic development of states. In order to respect and fulfil their international human rights obligations, governments must protect the rights of the people. Free and fair elections are not possible without the promotion and protection of an independent and pluralistic media or associated journalistic freedoms.’

Following the announcement of the results, protesters took to the streets. The authorities used force against them with violent dispersal methods, including flash-bang grenades and beating with truncheons. Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna has reported that thousands of individuals have been detained during the protests and one protester has died uring a violent clash between riot police and demonstrators. In the months leading up to the elections, more than 40 journalists were arrested. Further, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, at least 22 members of the media were arrested and many others were prevented from reporting on the day. At least 10 foreign journalists were denied government accreditation to cover the presidential election. Memory cards were also reportedly seized from a group of photographers, including one from the Associated Press, as they were documenting clashes between police and protesters. The exact number of detainees remains unknown as the internet disruption continues, starting on election day when internet access in Belarus was wholly or partly limited with internet users and the media reporting limited or no access to YouTube, Viber, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vkontakte. Access to key Belarusian independent news outlets has also been blocked.

IBAHRI Vice-Chair Mark Stephens CBE, commented: ‘It is unacceptable that the Belarusian government has imposed arbitrary internet censorship both during and after the election, and that violence is being used against individuals that express dissatisfaction with the conduct of the election and the political situation in the country. Freedom of expression and assembly are the bastions of free and democratic societies. The IBAHRI strongly condemns the mistreatment of the media and protesters in Belarus, and urges the authorities to release immediately all those detained.’

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had not deployed an observation mission to Belarus ahead of the election due to a lack of invitation by the government. In a November 2019 report on parliamentary elections, the ODIHR Election Observation Mission gave recommendations to the Republic of Belarus on the conduct of state elections, calling for ‘[aligning] legislation regulating the freedoms of association, assembly and expression with international standards’ and ‘establishing clear and transparent procedures for counting’.

Ahead of the elections, the High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, called on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that political rights, including ‘fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, in line with Belarus’ international commitments, are respected.’ On 10 August, Mr Borrell and Olivér Várhelyi, European Union Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner, issued a statement condemning disproportionate and unacceptable state violence, and calling for the immediate release of the detained protesters.

The IBAHRI is concerned by the latest events in Belarus and calls on the authorities to respect and ensure freedom of assembly and expression, and the rights of Belarusian people. Further, the IBAHRI strongly condemns the use of excessive force against protesters and urges the immediate and unconditional release of all individuals detained.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  3. Follow the IBAHRI on Twitter here: twitter.com/IBAHRI

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