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‘Police with the people!’ Hundreds arrested during mass protests ahead of presidential elections in Belarus

Source: Meduza
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Residents of Belarus took to the streets during the evening of July 14, protesting against the Central Election Committee’s refusal to registered Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo as presidential candidates. The two politicians were considered President Alexander Lukashenko’s most serious challengers in the elections set for August 9th. Protests took place in the capital, Minsk, as well as in Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilev, Molodechno, and other cities across the country. The rallies saw between several dozen and several hundred participants. The biggest demonstration was in Minsk, but, according to the Belarusian news outlet TUT.by, estimating the number of protesters in the city was made impossible due to the fact that people didn’t gather in large groups. The crowds also dispersed when law-enforcement officials began making arrests. 

The demonstrations in Minsk began spontaneously around 7:00 p.m., and arrests started almost immediately, reported RFE/RL’s Belarusian service, Radio Svaboda. In Minsk, people took to the streets in different parts of the city. Hundreds of people came to the capital’s main street, Independence Avenue; many participants came to the demonstrations by bike. Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity with the protesters. Almost immediately, law-enforcement officials and plainclothes officers began arresting demonstrators, as well as journalists. In response, protesters began chanting “Shame” in both Russian and Belarusian. 

Warning. The following video shows scenes of violence. 

The arrests targeting protesters were brutal: law-enforcement officials twisted demonstrators’ arms, punched them in their faces, and tackled those who tried to run away to the ground. Police officers even carried some of the protesters away and loaded them into paddy wagons. The majority of the arrests in Minsk took place around Victory Square, near the circus, and on the centrally located Nemiga Street. During the arrests, a door fell off of one of the police vans. The door was put inside the vehicle, which then drove off.

A riot police van loses one of its doors. Minsk, July 14, 2020.
REFORM BY

Around 9:00 p.m., clashes began between protesters and riot police in Minsk. One video shows a crowd of demonstrators attacking riot police as they attempted to arrest a protester; they released the man and he fled. According to eyewitnesses, protesters chanted a number of slogans, ranging from “Police with the people!” to “Shame!” 

Warning. The following video shows scenes of violence. 
Arrests and fighting with riot police during the evening of July 14 in Minsk.
TUT.BY
Here is the same fight, filmed from a different angle. The video shows scenes of violence. 

The protests in Minsk went on until late in the night. Around 11:00 p.m., several hundred people gathered on Nemiga Street: they whistled, clapped their hands, and shouted slogans like “Shame!”, “Leave!”, and “Long live Belarus!”

Police officers also made arrests on Nemiga Street, including detaining customers at a cafe and journalists who were live on air. 

Warning. The following video shows scenes of violence. 

In other Belarusian cities, police officers dispersed protesters, and in several cases there were no arrests. That said, the city of Brest saw brutal arrests after hundreds of people lined up to form a “solidarity chain.” Both protesters and journalists were arrested in Gomel, as well. In Grodno, it was the opposite, the demonstrations took place peacefully: only one person was arrested and he was quickly released. In Mogilev, dozens of people held a protest without any arrests.

Approximately 300 people were arrested during the protests across Belarus, including 14 journalists. The majority of the arrests took place in Minsk: the human rights center “Vyasna” (Spring) published a list with the names of 230 detainees. The Belarusian news outlet Naviny.by reported that riot police in Minsk also forced some of the arrested protesters to kneel with their hands behind their heads while inside paddy wagons. In six other cities across the country, 62 people were arrested, Vyasna reports. This includes at least 34 people in Brest (other reports say 35). The Belarusian Interior Ministry stated that 250 people were arrested during the protests. 

The Belarusian Investigative Committee launched a criminal case following the protests in Minsk. The case was opened under the article on “the organization, preparation, or participation in actions that grossly violate public order.” Those found guilty could face up to three years in prison. Investigators are working in various parts of Minsk, reports the government news agency BelTA. The Investigative Committee also stated that the videos from the protests published online have been added to the criminal case.

Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart