GENEVA (12 August 2020) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday condemned the violent response of the Belarusian authorities to the peaceful demonstrations held across the country in the aftermath of the presidential election and called for people’s grievances to be heard.
Following the announcement of contested preliminary results from Sunday’s election, largely peaceful protests erupted throughout Belarus, prompting a heavy crackdown by the security forces. Police were reported to have used unnecessary and excessive force against largely peaceful protestors, firing rubber bullets, using water cannons and throwing stun grenades. Reports indicate that police officers beat protestors, including after they were detained. At least 250 people have been injured, and one protester died, in unclear circumstances.
“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 supressed,” said the UN Human Rights Chief.
“Reports suggest that more than approximately 6000 people have been detained in the last three days, including bystanders, as well as minors, suggesting a trend of massive arrests in clear violation of international human rights standards. Even more disturbing are the reports of ill-treatment during and after detention. I remind the Belarusian Government of the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment of detainees,” Bachelet added.
In this context, the High Commissioner called for the immediate release of all those who have been unlawfully detained, and for prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations.
“Those arbitrarily detained or ill-treated for peacefully expressing dissent are entitled to justice and redress. The authorities should also hear and respond to people’s grievances regarding the elections,” the High Commissioner stressed.
Bachelet also expressed concern at the intermittent internet shutdowns since Sunday, as well as the blocking of many social media platforms, NGOs and news websites, which amount to a severe curtailment of the right of freedom of expression, including the right to seek and provide information.
Journalists covering the demonstrations have been harassed and in some cases attacked, and have had their equipment destroyed or confiscated, and more than 50 reporters and bloggers have been detained, with criminal investigations opened against some of them.
“Free flow of information is crucial in any democratic society, and especially in a context of crisis and social unrest. But even more so, in the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and where people might feel compelled to express dissent online rather than on the streets. The right to peacefully protest online must be also protected.”
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