UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday condemned the Belarusian government’s violent reaction to peaceful protesters following Sunday’s presidential election.
Protests erupted in Belarus following the announcement of contested preliminary election results on Sunday. Over three nights of protests, police arrested more than 6,000 people. Police reportedly used rubber bullets and water cannons, and they also allegedly beat and threw stun grenades at the protesters. As a result, at least 250 people were injured and one died.
Bachelet called Wednesday for the authorities to immediately release all of the protesters who had been illegally arrested. She stressed that those who were “arbitrarily detained or ill-treated” for peacefully protesting were entitled to justice and redress. She also called for prompt and impartial investigations into human rights violations allegations.
Bachelet also expressed concern over the curtailment of the right to seek and provide information, associated with the freedom of expression, because there have been intermittent internet shutdowns in Belarus since Sunday. Journalists at the demonstrations have also been harassed and attacked. Even though the free flow of information “is crucial in any democratic society,” Bachelet stressed that it is even more important during the current pandemic because people may want to dissent online rather than in person.
On the government’s action, Bachelet stated:
I remind the Belarussian authorities that the use of force during protests should always be exceptional and a measure of last resort, clearly differentiating between any violent individuals and peaceful protesters, against whom force should not be used. State authorities must allow and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and not repress it. People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not suppressed.