Belarus sees countrywide protests opposing the arrest of politicians and activists
On June 19, Belarus saw protests break out in Minsk and other cities in support of activists and politicians arrested during the presidential election campaign, reports RFE/RL’s Belarusian service, Radio Svoboda, and the news site Tut.by.
Demonstrators formed “solidarity chains” in cities across the country, including in Gomel, Mogilev, Babruysk, Baranovichi, Grodno, and Vitebsk.
According to Radio Svoboda, OMON special police units in Minsk began to disperse participants attending the rally on the city’s main street, Independence Avenue, just after 19:00.
The same thing happened in other cities, with riot police arresting protesters in Minsk, Gomel, Babruysk, and Vitebsk. Demonstrators were rounded into paddy wagons and taken to police stations.
According to the Belarusian human rights organization “Vyasna” (“Spring”), at least 46 people are in police custody in Minsk, in addition to dozens of protesters detained in other cities.
Radio Svoboda also recorded 10 incidents of journalists getting arrested while trying to cover the demonstrations. Police in Gomel arrested members of an initiative collecting signatures for one of the potential candidates, Tut.by reported.
On June 18, Belarusian law enforcement confirmed the arrest of popular alternative candidate Viktor Babariko, who is considered President Alexander Lukashenko’s main competitor. Babariko is now being held at a pre-trial detention center.
That same day, his campaign team released a previously recorded announcement, in which Babariko proposed that Belarus hold a referendum on changing its constitution. According to Babariko, the country should return to its 1994 constitution, which includes a limit on presidential terms. Belarus’s president Lukashenko has been serving for 26 consecutive years.
June 19 marked the last day for potential presidential candidates to collect signatures for participation in the presidential elections, scheduled for August 9.
Babariko’s arrest sparked mass protests in downtown Minsk on June 18, which saw 2,000 demonstrators rally in support of arrested politicians and activists.
Belarusian blogger Sergey Tikhanovsky was also arrested at the end of May in connection with an alleged case of violence against police officers. His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, is participating in the presidential race.