On Sunday the 9th of August the Belarus Presidential elections ended with Alexander Lukashenko winning one additional mandate in what we believe to have been an electoral process that failed to ensure the necessary standards of transparency recognized by the international community. The Central Election Commission of Belarus (CEC) reported Lukashenko winning with over 80% of the votes. This is in stark contrast to the independent reports about the apparent support for alternative political powers, the numbers and methods of arrests, the influence on the election observation, and other voter suppression methods.
The CEC implemented several restrictions with COVID-19 as the main justification for the measures, that directly impacted the possibility to conduct election observation activities. As a result of these restrictions there were fewer election observers per voting station and fewer observers from abroad and from alternative political parties. Most of the observers were from the pro-government organisations. Moreover, international election observers were almost absent, in particular the local authority failed to send a timely invitation to the OSCE/ODIHR. There are different reports about domestic observers from CSOs being denied their right to observe the electoral process, being expelled from the polling stations, or even being deregistered and detained.
Different sites in which planned demonstrations were systematically being closed down, often on the pretext of “emergency repairs”. Authorities refused to answer and even locked themselves away to avoid questioning on the events which transpired. Some of the people and journalists who presented themselves were arrested or detained.
Despite the attempts to curb the citizens right to protest, many have been and are taking to the streets to protest and voice their opinion. This is met with violent attacks and arrests by the authorities, who have been escalating the situation by provoking reactions and increasing their level of aggression. The Belarus police are using tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun grenades, and their vehicles to combat the protests. It has already been reported that one protestor allegedly died after being run over by a police vehicle, and one confirmed dead from a grenade. Gathering new live information from Belarus has also become almost impossible as the government allegedly forced networks to shut down, citing that this was disconnected from abroad. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has confirmed that approximately 6 thousand people have been arrested as of now in just three days of protesting. It has been stated by the Belarus authorities that any detained protesters could face charges and might receive up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Different types of political prisoners have been taken, from potential candidates, to activists, bloggers, and campaign managers. The exact number of prisoners is kept vague, even though there have been calls for release from human rights organisations.
Fair legal systems and trust in the government to upkeep the rules set by and for people are important for the functioning of the society. We are deeply concerned to see that the Belarus courts have failed in their tasks, following their government in questionable practices when deciding the fate of the peaceful protesters. The statements of accusing parties have been repeated multiple times, containing inaccuracies. The accused’ rights to defense were violated by preventing them to practice all legally available methods to do so. These all are actions that are not to be tolerated in a modern, democratic Europe, built on tolerance and the rule of law.
We as AEGEE stand for free and transparent elections in Europe. No-one should fear persecution or be denied their political voice. AEGEE strives to promote and facilitate the participation of citizens in general and young people in particular in free and fair elections. We stand fiercely against attempts to fool and subjugate any citizen in the time their opinion counts the most, any one person who believes that they can take over the electoral process by illegal and duplicitous measures is an adversary to the values we hold dear.
Therefore, AEGEE-Europe stands with RADA, the representatives of youth in Belarus officially recognised by the European Youth Forum, and endorses their statement. AEGEE calls upon the Belarus authorities to:
- Stop the use of force against peaceful assemblies
- Release all prisoners detained for political reasons or as part of peaceful demonstrations
- Repeat the presidential elections ensuring transparency and respecting the true democratic processes
- Honest communication and reporting from the government and media
- Unblock the internet and allow for the free flow of information