Belarus: Bloggers and activists arrested in purge ahead of the presidential election must be released
Responding to the news that at least three more prominent Belarusian bloggers - Ihar Losik, Syarhei Pyatrukhin and Syarhei Sparish - were arrested on Thursday, as part of a crackdown ahead of the presidential election on 9 August, Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus, said:
“The Belarusian authorities are carrying out a full-scale purge of dissenting voices, using repressive laws to stifle criticism ahead of the elections, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is running for the sixth consecutive term. Opposition candidates, supporters, and independent media have faced arbitrary arrest, hefty fines, and incarceration. Now those active on social media are being targeted.
The Belarusian authorities are carrying out a full-scale purge of dissenting voices, using repressive laws to stifle criticism ahead of the elections, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is running for the sixth consecutive term
“We are appalled by these latest arrests. At least two more popular bloggers, Uladzimir Nyaronski and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich, are already under arrest and facing criminal charges. Nobody should be punished for using the internet to express opinions about the government and its policies. The authorities need reminding that free speech is a right, not a crime.
“Amnesty International is calling for all the bloggers to be immediately and unconditionally released and for the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression across Belarus to end.”
Over the last 24 hours, the Belarusian authorities have arrested under spurious charges Ihar Losik, the administrator of popular Telegram channel Belarus of Brain, Syarhei Pyatrukhin, administrator of Telegram channels People’s Reporter and YouTube Deputies, and Syarhei Sparish, a member of the constituent committee of the new opposition party, People’s Hramada. Another blogger, Uladzimir Tsyhanovich, who is serving 15 days of administrative arrest for taking part in a peaceful demonstration, has also been charged with the crime of “organization and preparation for a grave breach of public order” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus). Blogger Uladzimir Nyaronski is also in detention and facing the same charge, along with “publicly insulting a representative of the authorities” (Article 369 of the Criminal Code).