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Belarusian authorities open criminal case against more than 200 participants in memorial march

Source: Meduza
Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

The Belarusian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against 231 participants involved in a demonstration that took place in Minsk on Sunday, November 1. The Investigative Committee’s website specified that all 231 people are considered suspects in the case, which was opened under the article on “Organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order” — a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

The wife of one of the detainees told the Belarusian news outlet that her husband was charged with an administrative offense, but police officers also interrogated him in connection with the criminal case. There are at least three journalists among the suspects, reports the news website Belsat

The suspects in the case were arrested during Sunday’s Dzyady March, part of a traditional Belarusian holiday commemorating ancestors, which falls in early November. The demonstration was also timed to coincide with Belarus’s unofficial remembrance day for victims of Soviet repressions. The demonstrators gathered near the Park Chelyuskintsev Subway Station and marched through downtown Minsk until they reached the Kurapaty forest — a mass grave site on the outskirts of the Belarusian capital where thousands of people were executed during the purges during the Stalin era.

Estimates on the number of protesters involved in Sunday’s march vary. Yesterday, the Russian state news agency TASS reported between 1,500 and 2,000 people marching through downtown Minsk, while MBX Media estimated that “several tens of thousands of people” were taking part in the procession. 

Demonstrators in Minsk chanting “Leave!”
Demonstrators gathered in the Kurapaty forest on the outskirts of Minsk
Riot police officers dispersing demostrators in the Kurapaty forest

Law enforcement officers brutally dispersed demonstrators in the city center, using tear gas and stun grenades, and firing shots into the air. Police officials in Minsk stated that the shots were an attempt to “stop the violation of the law.” Police vans and military equipment drove into the city center ahead of the march, including armored vehicles with machine guns.

Riot police officers firing warning shots into the air in Minsk
Armored vehicles in downtown Minsk

Demonstrations also took place in Mogilev, Pinsk and Grodno on November 1. According to the Belarusian human rights center Vyasna (Spring), law enforcement arrested a total of 290 people during the demonstrations in Minsk. Twenty-five others were arrested in other cities across the country.

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