As the trials of opposition politicians in Belarus approach, Amnesty International is publishing today (2 February) a report detailing ongoing repression of political opposition and human rights defenders in the country.
Accompanying the report is a new video featuring footage of abuses, interviews with eyewitnesses, victims and family members, plus an interview with playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, a long-term champion of freedom of expression in Belarus.
Speaking to Amnesty International, Sir Tom Stoppard said:
"All authoritarian regimes rely on, and would like to maintain, a state of ignorance about what is going on and they don't like the light and the heat of open discussion and free expression about their activities.
"I have friends in Belarus. Among those friends are a small number who are actually in prison at the moment. I believe they are completely innocent and good people who would like to live in a fair democratic society. I believe they are being violently suppressed at the moment or threatened and persecuted in various ways.
"It's an overt dictatorship. As such it's there, like a dinosaur, curiously enough still stomping around a precious part of Europe."
The report, "Security, Peace and Order? Violations in the wake of elections in Belarus", also highlights human rights violations committed by the Belarusian authorities in the aftermath of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's fourth re-election last December. Hundreds of people were detained and many were beaten by riot police during the dispersal of a demonstration on election night on 19 December.
Amnesty International's Belarus researcher Heather McGill said:
"Over seven hundred people where detained that night. Hundreds of them were given short prison sentences just for taking part in a peaceful demonstration. Of those people, a number are still in detention and have been charged with the criminal offence of organising 'Mass Disorder' which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
"Amnesty International considers that most of those people are prisoners of conscience who have been charged merely for expressing legitimate concerns about the elections."
Amnesty's report highlights violations of the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression; ill-treatment and disproportionate use of force, arbitrary detention, fair trial concerns and medical care for the detained.
It presents the case of opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau and his wife who were severely beaten and injured by riot police and unlawfully arrested.
Andrei Sannikau's sister Irina Bogdanova told Amnesty International:
"Most of the information we are getting from the news. In what conditions they are held there we don't know, how badly my brother is beaten up we don't know, whether they are getting any medical care or not, we don't know."
Amnesty International is reiterating its call to the Belarusian authorities to release all prisoners of conscience who are detained solely for the peaceful expression of their political views.