Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

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The nomination group of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has come under an unprecedented attack from Belarusian law enforcement agencies, after 12 campaign activists were arrested or otherwise persecuted, including the leader of her group and popular vlogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski and eight more activists currently held in a controversial criminal case.

The police also briefly detained several dozen volunteers working with Tsikhanouskaya and supporters of the arrested blogger. Some of them were released, while others stood hasty trials and were either fined or sentenced to short prison terms of up to 15 days.

Uladzimir Kniha, activist of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's campaign team, is dragged into a police bus by plain-clothed police officers in Hrodna. June 4, 2020
Uladzimir Kniha, activist of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's campaign team, is dragged into a police bus by plain-clothed police officers in Hrodna. June 4, 2020

Election observers say the new wave of persecution is aimed at reducing the campaigning activities of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, which may result in her failure to qualify for the presidential candidacy. Uladzimir Labkovich of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” observation initiative says the detention of several key regional coordinators will invalidate many of the signatures collected by Tsikhanouskaya’s group activist. According to the expert, the new election rules do not allow redistributing roles within nomination groups, and thousands of signatures will not be eligible for submission as long as some of Tsikhanouskaya’s eighteen local coordinators remain in custody.

“Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has received impressive support all over Belarus with queues of people ready to support her presidential nomination, has every chance to collect more than 100,000 signatures and very little chance to become a candidate, including because some of her coordinators were detained within a criminal case, including the head of her nomination group Siarhei Tsikhanouski. As a result, she has little chance to submit signatures in the regions where there are no coordinators,” Labkovich said.

Volha Kavalkova, co-chair of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party and a would-be candidate in the August 9 presidential election, has written to the Investigative Committee asking to prosecute Aliaksandr Lukashenka under Art. 190 of the Criminal Code for his discriminatory statements against women.

In particular, back in 2011, Lukashenka said that he “would not move over in favor of the weaker sex,” describing presidency as a “heavy work” that women are not fit to do.

Volha Kavalkova. Photo:
Volha Kavalkova. Photo:

During his visit to the Minsk Tractor Factory on May 29, Aliaksandr Lukashenka once again questioned women’s ability to run for President: “Our Constitution is not for women. And our society is not mature enough to vote for women. Because according to the Constitution, the President has strong power.” Lukashenka also said that Belarus is not Lithuania, where “Dalia Grybauskaitė comes, smiles, sits down and leaves. She is not responsible for anything, because Lithuania is a parliamentary republic.”

The appeal is one at least ten statements received by the authorities following President’s remarks on May 29. One of them, authored by Viasna’s human rights defender Alena Masliukova, stresses that Lukashenka’s public statements violate Art. 47 of the Electoral Code, as they constitute illegal campaigning targeting his female rivals.

On June, the Central Election Commission replied to the complaints by saying that the incumbent cannot be reprimanded since he has not yet been registered as a candidate and Article 47 does not apply to him.

“The electoral legislation does not contain the notion of “early campaigning”. Thus, there are no legal grounds for issuing the warning as requested by the applicants. The commission also believes that the position of the petitioners reflects their personal opinion,” the CEC said.

On May 5, police in Homieĺ detained Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh, an activist running for President and describing himself as a “protest candidate” (one of several dozen activists who applied for registration but were refused by the CEC).

The arrest is said to be linked to the activist’s involvement in a picket held on May 31.

Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh. Photo:
Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh. Photo:

Niapomniashchykh and several other “protest candidates” (Yury Hubarevich, Volha Kavalkova, and Mikalai Kazlou) were cleared by the electoral authorities to collect signatures in support of their presidential nominations. However, they said would not do so, but would use the elections as an opportunity to arrange pickets without asking permission from the authorities.