Prohibited to Show One’s Colours

Continuous impairment of the Human Rights situation in Belarus in the run-up to the next presidential elections

, by Lars Bünger, Translated by Pia Menning

Prohibited to Show One's Colours

Repressions within the last dictatorship in Europe noticeable increase. Prosecution, intimidation and harassment of dissidents are a daily occurrence. With the imprisonment of opposionist Aleh Surhan for 6 month, Belarus reaches a new low-point in its human rights situation.

Belarus, which is situated between Poland and Russia, has been governed since 1994 by Alexander Lukaschenko. In this course of time he prolonged his term of office by the use of fake referenda and thus created the possibility of an indefinite leadership from himself. According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) one cannot speak about free and fair elections in Belarus since 1996. Not a single opponent is sitting in the parliament and the man with the mustache is currently preparing his next term of office as president. In the run-up to the upcoming elections, which will take place latest in February 2011, the regime is now tightening the thumbscrews already.

Intimidation of the Polish minority

At the beginning of this year a spate of mass arrests of members of the independent ’Union of Poles in Belarus’ took place. The members are resisting the political amalgamation of their organisations into a state-run association.

After the Belarusian authorities installed a leadership of the Union of Poles in 2005, which is loyal to the regime, the organisation split into two factions. The activists of the democratic-independent Union of Poles are since then operating without official registration and constantly have one foot in prison. The representatives of the Polish minority however, are in good company regarding this situation, as dozens of organisations are denied official registration in Belarus.

The activists of the democratic-independent Union of Poles are since then operating without official registration and constantly have one foot in prison

Expulsion of Students

In 2001 the Belarusian Students Association (BSA) was banned. The independent student union has since then been an active underground association. Since 2006, more than 300 students had to leave Belarus as they were not allowed to continue their studies due to political reasons. The pressure of expulsion was preventing their every attempt to re-register the BSA so far. Hardly any students dare to reveal him or herself as a member of the student association in the official registration documents, as he or she does not want to lose their place at university.

Prosecution of Opponents

The by now infamous article 193-1 of the criminal code, criminalises the activities of non-registered organisations. In the case of convictions, offenders can face imprisonment up to two years. Zmitser Dashkevich, president of the opponent Malady Front (Young Front), got to feel the effects of this article. Since 2006 five unsuccessful attempts were made to register the organisation. The sixth request to gain official registration was filed at the end of February 2010. Due to his activities in Malady Front Zmitser Dashkevich was arrested in September 2006 and sentenced to one and a half year imprisonment. Following world-wide pressure, he was released early in January 2008. Since then he became a victim of state prosecution dozens of times. House searches, imprisonment for several days, travel bans, violent assaults at peaceful protests – the Belarusian state seems to use whatever it takes to intimidate and harass Dashkevich and other dissenters.

Hi-jacked Young Activists

As of December 2008, six leading young activists have been kidnapped, among them Zmitser Dahskevich on 5th December 2009. Five men grabbed him, dragged him into a Minivan and blindfolded him by pulling head-wear over his eyes. He was held like this for five hours in the vehicle and subsequently set free in a village outside of Minsk. To fully understand the intimidating effect of this short-time hi-jacking, one has to look back to the years 1999 and 2000. At that time four dissidents were kidnapped and killed by state death squads. An examination report of the Council of Europe, discovered evidence on these cases which linked directly to the presidential administration. Every opponent in Belarus knows about the destiny of the four ’disappeared’ persons and the regime systematically takes advantage of the potential of this fear. No one can be sure, that they will not also become a victim of hi-jacking by special state forces.

Every opponent in Belarus knows about the destiny of the four ’disappeared’ persons and the regime systematically takes advantage of the potential of this fear

Conviction of Aleh Surhan

The fact that the simple hanging of a flag can be enough to be put in prison is a fact Aleh Surhan currently has to face. Surhan is member of the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party (BCD) which tried twice to officially register in 2009. With the use of paltry excuses both requests for official registration were denied and a massive campaign to intimidate and defamate members of BCD was set into operation. The current culmination of the wave of repressions is the conviction of Aleh Surhan from 19th February 2010 to spend six month in a penal colony.

In September 2009 Surhan erected a red-white-red Belarusian national flag in Witebsk. This flag was however replaced in 1995 by the old flag of the Belarusian Soviet Republic and became the symbol of identification of the Belarusian opposition, despite (or maybe because of) its quasi-prohibition. After hanging the flag Surhan was arrested and ill-treated on the way to the police station. Upon arrival he wrote a complaint to the office of the prosecutor. Hereupon he was charged with alleged drunkenness in public, use of obscene language and resisting police officers.

Petition and postcard-action

Belarusian human rights organisations consider the sentencing of Aleh Suhan as politically motivated. The German-Swiss NGO Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights is lobbying for the release of the political prisoner and therefore has started a petition. To give encouragement to Aleh Surhan it is moreover proposed to send him postcards to prison

More information on this campaign can be found at: www.lphr.org

The human rights situation in Belarus is moving forward to a new low-point. It is upon time for the free Europe to combat the last shelter of tyranny on this continent.

Images: Dashkevich Under Attack & Beaten Aleh Surhan, source: Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights

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Your comments

  • On 16 March 2010 at 13:38, by Tomas Spragg Replying to: Prohibited to Show One’s Colours

    This is a really powerful and well written article, and I’d like to thank Lars for drawing attention to Libereco’s campaign to assist Aleh Surhan.

    I think it is really important to discuss the related theories and the international reactions to the dictatorship in Belarus, but without articles such as this, that really bring individual stories of the oppressed, it is difficult to contextualise the situation in Belarus.

    Whilst it is rather heart-wrenching to read of individuals who have been treated this way, highlighting these stories can really drive home why JEF Europe should continue this hugely important campaign for as many years as Belarus is without free and fair elections.

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