Election marred by unprecedented violence, domestic observers say
On July 15, representatives of “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, the only domestic non-partisan election observation initiative in Belarus, held an online press conference to report on the first phase of observation of the August 9 presidential election.
One of the campaign’s leaders, Uladzimir Labkovich, representing the Human Rights Center "Viasna", outlined the main peculiarities of this year’s election.
“This campaign is accompanied by unprecedented violence. We have accustomed to seeing new political prisoners during elections. This has always been the case in every election. We saw it in 2001, in 2006, and in 2010. Except 2015, every election was accompanied by repression against active participants, including candidates. But this has never been so evident since the first days of the campaign. Now, unfortunately, we have witnessed this since the Parliament called the election on May 8. The first arrests were observed on the very first day of the election.
We currently have 25 political prisoners, most of whom are involved in the election. These, unfortunately, include candidates, leaders and members of nomination groups, as well as bloggers. From the very beginning, the election has been accompanied by active comments from one of the main contenders, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who gave direct instructions on violent reactions to certain candidates. He did not hide that he had personally ordered the arrest of Siarhei Tsikhanouski and Viktar Babaryka,” the human rights activist said.
Uladzimir Labkovich states that transparent and free elections are not possible in such conditions. This is especially true given the formation of territorial election commissions, which consist of representatives of pro-government parties and organizations. The number of opposition representatives has decreased by 15 times, the observers stress. The situation is similar in precinct commissions, which usually feature representatives of the same enterprise or organization. All this was explained by the coronavirus pandemic and the inability to hold public meetings.
“The election has preserved all the procedural diseases that existed before. We have witnessed a discriminatory approach towards opponents of the government and this, unfortunately, is superimposed on the general background of violence against participants in peaceful protests,” he concluded.
The nomination and registration of presidential candidates took place in an atmosphere of threats, fear and pressure on voters in connection with their activity in the elections. Out of seven persons who were nominated as presidential candidates and submitted signatures collected for their nomination, five were registered as candidates.
Co-head of "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" and leader of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak spoke about other features of the 2020 election:
“The election is set almost a month earlier than expected. After the announcement of the election, the nomination groups of potential candidates had only 7 days to collect support signatures, while before they had up to 17 days."
Aleh Hulak also noted that 2 days before the election was called by the Parliament, one of the potential candidates, popular blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was sent to prison. As a result, he was deprived of the opportunity to apply for registration of his nomination group.
“The previous election was held on a more liberal background,” Hulak said.