Belarus Police Detain Opposition Activists


Police in Belarus detained more than a dozen opposition protesters gathered outside a court trying one of their comrades.

Police in Belarus, an ex-Soviet state accused of flouting basic rights, detained more than a dozen opposition protesters gathered outside a court trying one of their comrades on Tuesday, an activist said.

Police acted as a court in Soligorsk, south of Minsk, began hearing the case of activist Ivan Shilo, accused of membership of an unregistered group, the Youth Front.

"About 60 people massed outside the courthouse and began shouting slogans in support of our comrade when police attacked our activists," Pavel Severinets told Reuters by telephone.

"People were beaten. About 15 were detained and are now in police custody."

The Interior Ministry declined to comment on the trials.

Severinets, released from jail earlier this year, said the proceedings were reminiscent of show trials that reached their peak in 1937 under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

President Alexander Lukashenko takes a hard line on dissent in his country wedged between Russia and three European Union states. Legislation passed two years ago sets stiff penalties for anyone convicted of membership of an unregistered group.

Several people have been sent to jail under the law, including the leader of the Youth Front group.

The Belarussian opposition, working together again after splitting up in the aftermath of last year's presidential election won by Lukashenko, is organising an autumn march to which they hope to attract thousands of people.

Lukashenko, barred from the United States and the European Union, is accused of harassing opponents, muzzling the media and rigging elections, including his re-election to a third term.

But he remains popular at home and tells voters he has spared them the excesses of nearby former Soviet republics.