A controversial election planned in Belarus this weekend sparked a silent protest in downtown Oslo: A gag over the statue of Norwegian artist Christian Krohg, and a sign pleading for more freedom in the country ruled by a man often called "the last dictator" in Europe.
It wasn't clear who was behind the symbolic protest, which was in English, not Norwegian. Meanwhile, a local human rights organization said it had no expectations that the election on Sunday would boost any real democracy in the Belarus.
"Basic preconditions for democratic elections are seriously curbed under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko," said Bjorn Engesland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Oslo. Engesland was denied a visa to visit Belarus earlier this week.
Sunday's presidential election is being held despite curbs on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, according to the Helsinki Committee. Human rights defenders, journalists and other civilian activists "are unable to carry out their legitimate work free from persecution, harassment and intimidation," stated the committee.
Engesland acknowledged that "the level of direct repression" of the opposition is lower, but added that "we have no positive expectations for the outcome" of the election.