Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

FIDH: Police Must Refrain from Excessive Force Against Peaceful Protesters

Paris – One person was killed, dozens were hospitalised and hundreds more were detained during mass protests in Belarus following the announcement of preliminary results of yesterday’s presidential elections. Riot police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons to crack down on peaceful protesters in Minsk and other cities of Belarus, in violation of international human rights law. FIDH reiterates its call for authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters.

On 9 August, final voting was held in the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus. Despite numerous confirmed irregularities and lack of transparency in the voting process, the preliminary results, as reported by the officials, awarded the victory to incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenka with 80% of the popular vote. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed the victory for the opposition, reportedly came in second with only 10% of the vote.

Large protests erupted after the official exit poll awarded a landslide victory to the incumbent President Lukashenka. Thousands took to the streets in Minsk, Brest, Grodno, Gomel, Pinsk, and other cities across Belarus to protest election fraud. While police sided with the protesters in some regions, the authorities responded with violence against peaceful protesters in larger cities, particularly in Minsk.

Riot police dispersed protesters with stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, causing dozens of injuries. One protester died of the injuries he sustained after being run over by a police van. Scores of others suffered rubber bullet wounds to the head, broken bones and bloodied faces, requiring hospitalisation. Some protesters, including at least two journalists, were severely beaten. FIDH member organisation in Belarus, Viasna Human Rights Center, has confirmed the arrest of approximately 300 protesters, including 120 in Minsk, and including at least 55 election observers. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, some 3,000 were detained overnight, with over 1,000 in Minsk alone.

In the run-up to the elections, which had also been marred by police violence and arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters since July, opposition candidates were arrested, numerous independent election observers and journalists were detained, the internet was largely shut down and troops in riot gear and military equipment were amassed in the capital.

Freedom of assembly, including unorganised and non-authorised protest, is an essential right in a democracy, and is guaranteed by the Belarus Constitution and international human rights law, including by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The use of stun grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons and other non-lethal force against peaceful protesters constitutes an undue and excessive interference with the right and might amount to violation of the right to life and the right to be free of inhuman treatment, among other abuses. FIDH calls on the Belarus authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, to resort to the least amount of force necessary in order to restore public safety and order, in all circumstances, and to respect the right to free and fair elections of Belarus citizens.