MINSK, Belarus – Around 140 people have been detained during opposition protests in Belarus, the Vyasna rights group said Saturday, June 20, as President Alexander Lukashenko ramps up a crackdown on critics ahead of polls.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko, 65, is seeking a sixth term in the August presidential election.
Opposition figures have fought hard to get on the ballot, and a number of opponents — including Lukashenko’s strongest election rival Viktor Babaryko — have been jailed in the runup to the August 9 vote.
Friday was the last day for candidates seeking to challenge the incumbent to gather ballot-access signatures from supporters.
On Friday evening their supporters lined the streets in the capital Minsk and other cities to support Lukashenko’s critics but police moved in to break those gatherings.
As a result, around 140 people – including 80 in Minsk – were detained, the Vyasna rights group said.
Detentions also took place in Bobruisk, Vitebsk, Brest, Mogilev and other cities.
Five people including a minor have been beaten, the rights group said.
A number of journalists with foreign media outlets were detained, including a correspondent for Radio Free Europe’s Belarusian service who was led away by plain-clothed officers while filming a live video.
Some people were released late Friday, while others were waiting for a court hearing.
A freelance video journalist on assignment for Reuters new agency was among those detained in Minsk, said an agency spokesperson, before being released.
On Thursday, Lukashenko’s main rival Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker, was arrested on suspicion of financial crimes.
He formerly headed Belgazprombank, a Belarus subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom. A total of around 20 people have been detained in connection with investigations linked to Belgazprombank.
Lukashenko announced that authorities had foiled a foreign plot to stage a popular uprising in Belarus.
The detention of Babaryko came after authorities jailed other critics including prominent opposition politician Mikola Statkevich and popular vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky.
The run-up to the presidential vote has seen a flurry of opposition activity, in stark contrast to the incumbent’s traditional Soviet approach to campaigning.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international election and war monitor, has not recognised any polls in Belarus as free and fair since 1995. – Rappler.com