Index on Censorship condemns the continued crackdown on protesters in Europe’s last dictatorship.
Belarusian authorities detained about 400 people over the weekend as Freedom Day demonstrations against the country’s Presidential Decree No. 3, which imposes a tax on the unemployed. Protesters were met by riot police and many were reportedly assaulted.
“This is in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Index demands all detainees be immediately and unconditionally released and all charges be dropped,” Melody Patry, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said.
Among the detainees were international and domestic journalists, human rights defenders, and actors and playwrights working for the UK-based Belarus Free Theatre.
BFT staffer, Siarhai Kvachonok was sentenced to 10 days detention on Monday March 27 for his participation in the protest. Among his charges: “Using strong language, shouting and hooliganism”. Yana Rusakevich, another BFT member, was located in a hospital with a concussion on Sunday. On Saturday, BFT manager Svetlana Sugako was filmed being arrested by the BBC.
Artistic Director Natalia Kaliada of the BFT told The Guardian: “It’s a strategy of arrests and clearing the streets and blocking the internet that they think will spook people, but people are very angry. All these arrests and splitting up the crowds might make things a little quieter in Minsk, but now these protests are happening all over Belarus. This is the worst crackdown over the last seven years, but it would have been the biggest protest. People don’t care, they want an end to this dictator. They say ‘basta’ – enough.”