The Belarusian authorities are resorting to threats, harassment and prosecution of children in an increasingly desperate attempt to suppress dissent, Amnesty International said ahead of the six-month anniversary on 9 February of the start of protests in the country.
Some children are facing years in prison, while others live in fear that their parents will be imprisoned, or that they will be placed in state care, Amnesty International revealed. The violent crushing of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country is behind the organization’s #StandWithBelarus campaign.
“In their brutal crackdown on dissent, the authorities’ treatment of children has been completely unacceptable. Some have ended up in arbitrary detention and are facing trumped-up criminal charges, much like adults,” says Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus.
“Children as young as eight have been threatened in schools with reprisals against their politically active parents. One of the most insidious forms of harassment and intimidation is the threat to exploit legislation to remove children from families and place them in state care – effectively making them hostages of the government.”
One of the most insidious forms of harassment and intimidation is the threat to exploit legislation to remove children from families and place them in state care – effectively making them hostages of the governmentAisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus
Fourteen-year-old Aleh (name changed for security reasons) was detained in Minsk on 12 August by riot police in masks, alongside hundreds of peaceful protesters and bystanders. “In the minibus they beat him, pulled his hair and pulled his fingers back to force him to unblock his phone,” his mother told Amnesty International. Police officers found a small flyer with the Belarusian red and white opposition flag in his pocket. This was enough for the child protection services to put the family on a watchlist claiming that Aleh lives in a “socially dangerous situation.” Now, Aleh and his family live in constant fear of separation.
“This case epitomizes the cruelty of the Belarusian authorities’ crackdown on rights – going to extreme lengths to intimidate their critics after the widely-challenged election. This inhumane treatment of children by the state for political aims and the ugly campaign of intimidation of all dissent must end immediately.”
Amnesty International’s #StandWithBelarus campaign was launched on 27 January with the publication of a report revealing how the Belarusian authorities have weaponized the justice system to punish victims of torture rather than perpetrators.