Legislation severely restricting freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, harassment of journalists, human rights activists and members of sexual minorities has remained in place in Belarus, a recent report by Amnesty International says.
“In October, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka comfortably won his fifth consecutive term in office, against a backdrop of state-controlled media as well as harassment and reprisals against political opponents. Internationally mediated talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, hosted in Minsk, aided Belarus’ diplomatic efforts to improve relations with the EU. <…> The national currency lost over 50% of its value against the US dollar, and the economy was projected to contract by around 4%, largely due to the economic downturn in Russia, its principal trading partner,” the document reads.
Amnesty International recalls that Belarus retained the death penalty, and refers to two death sentences passed in 2015.
The issue of Belarusian prisoners of conscience is a focal points of the report. Although several prisoners convicted in politically motivated trials in previous years were released their convictions were not quashed and they were placed under considerable restrictions, including ‘prophylactic supervision’.
Former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich therefore was prevented from standing in forthcoming elections, and was ordered to regularly report his movements and activities to the police for the following eight years, the report stresses.
According to Amnesty International, in 2015 the media remained under tight government control, and independent media outlets and journalists routinely faced harassment. Freelance journalists who contributed to foreign media were required to obtain accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was regularly refused or indefinitely delayed, the report notes.
“Kastus Zhukouski, who worked for Poland-based Belsat TV, was fined three times for working without accreditation, most recently on 9 July, and three more times in previous years, by the Central District Court and the Zheleznodorozhnyi District Court in Homel, as well as the Rahachou District Court. According to independent media watchdog Index on Censorship, since January at least 28 freelance journalists were issued fines of between 3 and 7.8 million roubles (US$215-538) for working without accreditation.”
AI also blasts Belarus’ Law on Mass Events, under which any assembly or public protest is regarded as unlawful unless expressly permitted by the authorities.