This summer in Russia and Belarus has been marked not just by the epidemic, but also by repressions against people advocating for a change in government. The leaders of both countries have flouted essential protective measures to reduce the number of pandemic victims (quarantine was cancelled prematurely in Russia and never even introduced at all in Belarus). In Belarus, the presidential election campaign has taken the form of all-out repressions against the opposition candidates, their staff, their relatives, and even participants in peaceful demonstrations against the current president’s anti-democratic actions. In Russia, people are being forced to participate in a “referendum” on constitutional changes whose only purpose it to keep Putin in power, thus violating norms of international law that Russia is bound to uphold. Russians who attempt to voice protest are detained by the police.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters in Belarus have been beaten, fined, arrested, and placed in isolation centers with torture conditions. Journalists have been arrested for reporting on the candidate nomination process, bloggers have been subjected to persecution and searches, and election observers have been arrested and fined. The situation is even more serious for politicians and potential candidates from the opposition and involves arrests, searches of members of public interest groups and their relatives, and the initiation of criminal cases.
Many critics of the Russian government have also been affected by persecutions: in addition to political activists, theater figures, journalists, bloggers, performance artists, human rights defenders and historians of Soviet terror have been imprisoned under fabricated charges. Police officers rarely allow attorneys to see their clients and threaten, harass, and sometimes even beat these attorneys. Journalists from unsanctioned publications are being persecuted at the same time as the ECtHR found that the blocking of publications covering the situation in Russia, like Grani.ru, is a violation of the right to freedom of expression (the Russian authorities shut down this website for “calls to express a civic position without observance of the procedure for holding events established by law”).
The antidemocratic actions of the authorities violate the rights of citizens of Russia and Belarus, and the ban on criticism of these actions is doubly unlawful.
We demand an end to repressions against political activists, opposition candidates, journalists, bloggers, and anyone speaking out for freedom of elections, a change in government, and democracy.
Photo by Kseniya Halubovich