The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] expressed concern [press release] Friday over Belarus' handling of human rights activists and its efforts to silence opposition. OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, said that the situation in Belarus is amounting to persecution of dissenters, citing the arrest of Aliaksandr Bialiatski, president of the Belarus Human Rights Centre [advocacy website], and the mass arrests of protestors [Guardian report] after President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] won last December's election. Azubalis said:
Trials of the participants in the December 19 demonstrations, systematic stifling of the media and freedom of assembly, and the continued persecution of opposition figures, non-governmental organizations and civil society, attest to the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus. ... I call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and civil society activists. Belarus must comply with its OSCE commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms, which were reaffirmed at the highest level in December 2010, at the OSCE Summit in Astana.Earlier this week, Belarusian lawmakers moved to outlaw silent protests [JURIST report] introducing a bill that would ban the mere assembling of people.
The move to ban assembling seems targeted at silent protests across the country against Lukashenko. Taking part in unsanctioned protests is illegal in Belarus so protests are being organized largely through social media sites where the protestors meet at a previously agreed upon location and, for instance, clap hands. Lukashenko, who has been in power for 17 years since his 1994 election, cracked down on opposition presidential candidates and detained protestors during his bid for a third term in the last election. Earlier this year, Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences [JURIST report] to two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST reports] of Lukashenko. The two-year suspended sentences [RFE/RL report] were handed down days after former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau [Free Belarus Now profile] was sentenced to five years [JURIST report]. Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports]. While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses.