Almost one year after the sanctions were lifted, Belarusian authorities have once again resorted to harassment and mass arrests in order to suppress and silence independent voices in the country. How will the EU now step up to protect human rights in Belarus?
Weeks before the mass arrests, Civil Rights Defenders released a comprehensive report in February 2017 entitled "Dictatorship no more? EU Sanctions Lifted at the Expense of Civil and Political Rights in Belarus."
The latest widespread crackdowns by Belarusian authorities now bear witness to the central tenets of the report demonstrating that repression against civil society in the country continues unabated. The report also sums up the reality of the situation that led up to the removal of the EU-imposed sanctions.
Since protests began in early March, independent journalists and opposition activists have been arrested and detained throughout Belarus as mass nationwide demonstrations have taken place against an unpopular "unemployment fee," which levies taxes on several categories of unemployed persons.
Getting worse, not better
The sustained efforts by the Belarusian regime to silence critical voices should provide enough proof that nothing has really changed since the EU lifted the majority of sanctions in February 2016 against a country that has been often dubbed "Europe´s last dictatorship."
Following the protests on March 25 and 26, over 800 people were arrested and detained across Belarus in the space of two days, including 103 journalists.
“Who owns the information, owns the world. The authorities deem journalists to be the incendiaries of protests because it is the media where the public’s reaction to the worsening situation is extensively discussed. independent media is actively covering the protest actions which is interpreted by the authorities as advertising and the popularization of such protests," says Barys Haretski, a press officer for the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
The situation has in fact deteriorated as little or no progress has been made when it comes to the introduction of: democratic elections; respect for freedom of the press; the termination of the prosecution of political opponents; civil society activists and human rights defenders; and the abolition of the death penalty, to name but a few.
Freedom Day arrests
The EU must now fully realize that Belarus is a country that brutalizes its population for carrying out peaceful protests and completely fails to live up to both domestic and international rule of law, as the Belarusian dictatorship continues to punish dissenting voices in the country.
On March 25, Belarus's Freedom Day, a new wave of protests took place throughout the country. Once again, hundreds of journalists, dissidents and civil society activists arrested, fined and detained.
"We are ready to fight for the freedom of speech, for our rights as citizens of Belarus. We expect nothing less than strong support and assistance from the European Union as we stand up to dictatorship and oppression once more," writes Andrei Bastunets of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Ales Bialiatski, Viasna Human Rights Centre, Victoria Fedorova, Legal Initiative, Robert Hårdh, Civil Rights Defenders, Milana Kharytonava, Belsat freelance correspondent, Aksana Kolb, Novy Chas newspaper, Ales Liauchuk, Belsat freelance correspondent and Leonid Sudalenka, Lawyer, Legal Initiative.
For more on the situation of human rights in Belarus, see CRD's report "Dictatorship No More? EU Sanctions Lifted at the Expense of Civil and Political Rights in Belarus"
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