Belarus: Police unleash appalling violence on peaceful protesters

Amnesty International’s delegates in the Belarusian capital Minsk witnessed appalling violence unleashed by riot police on peaceful protesters who took to the streets last night after official announcements on election results, which protesters view as rigged. The “official exit poll results” announced by the government pointed to a sweeping win by the incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, contradicting unofficial polls and public sentiment.

“Post-electoral violence by police has become a regular feature of politics in Belarus, where all forms of peaceful dissent are brutally suppressed. Last night Amnesty International delegates witnessed first-hand the viciousness of the police response, which included indiscriminate use of force, including stun grenades, against a peaceful crowd, and arbitrary arrests of individuals who were far from any protest,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

One horrifying video shows a police van running over a protester at full speed
Marie Struthers, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

“One horrifying video shows a police van running over a protester at full speed on a wide road. This footage captures the blood-chilling ruthlessness of the Belarusian police’s actions last night, and shows why so many in Belarus are desperate for change.”

One protester is confirmed to have died last night in Minsk and dozens more have been seriously injured. 

There have been reports of isolated pockets of violence by some protesters. Amnesty International’s assessment of incidents where there is available footage is that these were in response to heavy-handed policing. Amnesty International delegates said they had not witnessed any protester among the crowds they observed resorting to violence; they did however see police using unprovoked and indiscriminate force.

The police have acted outside of law which they are there to uphold
Marie Struthers

“The skirmishes resulting in injuries of both protesters and police officers could have been avoided if the security forces had respected protesters’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly and exercised due restraint. The police have acted outside of law which they are there to uphold,” said Marie Struthers.

“We deplore the increased levels of violence and renewed attacks on peaceful protesters in Minsk and other Belarusian cities. The authorities must do everything they can to avoid further violence – this means fully respecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression for all people in Belarus, in full conformity with the country’s obligations under international human rights law. There must be a thorough and effective investigation into the appalling events of last night, so that every officer responsible for human rights violations is brought to account.”

Amnesty International is also calling for the immediate release of peaceful protesters and political activists, including those detained in politically-motivated proceedings in the run-up to the election.

Background

Mass protests in Minsk and other Belarusian cities have been growing for months in the leadup to national elections. The situation escalated on Sunday night when the authorities announced “official exit poll results” suggesting that the incumbent was leading with 80% of the votes. This contradicted the widely-expected outcomes and the results of informal exit polls which suggested a landslide victory for the opposition candidate Svaytlana Tsikhanouskaya. Thousands took to the streets, in cities and towns across Belarus.