[JURIST] Members of the Belarus Parliament have introduced a bill that would ban so-called “silent protests,” including those involving large groups of people basically doing nothing. The law seems aimed at stopping numerous silent protests [AFP report] across Belarus with protestors meeting in large groups chanting, clapping hands or standing around silently. Opposition members are against the new bill but they are not represented in Parliament, meaning the measure will likely pass. Taking part in unsanctioned protests is illegal in Belarus so protests are being organized largely through social media sites [Moscow Times report] where the protestors meet at a previously agreed upon location and, for instance, clap hands. Many of the protests are aimed at President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] who has been in power for 17 years since his 1994 election. The protests are usually broken up by police and many involved have been arrested.
Lukashenko 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 of 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.