Three death sentences were handed down and two people were executed. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly were severely restricted and peaceful demonstrators were detained and fined. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were not investigated promptly and impartially. Prisoners of conscience were denied access to medical and legal assistance.
In December, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was re-elected for the fourth time by 79.7 per cent of the votes in elections that international observers judged fell short of OSCE standards. Riot police violently dispersed a mainly peaceful demonstration held by opposition supporters at close of voting on 19 December. The events were followed by a clampdown on opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists who were subjected to arbitrary detention, searches, threats and other forms of harassment by the authorities.Top of page
State representatives expressed their willingness to engage with the international community regarding the death penalty. In February, a Parliamentary Working Group on the Death Penalty was established. In September, the government acknowledged the need to abolish the death penalty to the UN Human Rights Council; it stated its intention to mould public opinion in favour of abolition and to continue its co-operation with the international community. Despite this, Belarus continued to hand down death sentences and to carry out executions.
In May, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media expressed concern in a letter to the Belarusian authorities about pressure placed on independent media in the country and stated that “Intimidation of journalists exerts a ‘chilling’ effect on already weakened investigative journalism in Belarus.”
On 1 July, Presidential Decree No. 60 “On measures to improve the use of the national segment of the internet” came into effect. The decree requires among other things that internet service providers check the identity of subscribers in person, and make information about subscribers available to the authorities; and measures have been introduced to limit access to information that could be classed as extremist, pornographic, or that promotes violence and other illegal acts. According to a study commissioned by the OSCE, these measures “lead to unsubstantiated restrictions of a citizen’s right to receive and disseminate information”, and give the authorities extremely broad powers to limit access to certain sources of information.Top of page
The restrictive “Law on Mass Actions” continued to limit freedom of assembly and expression. The law requires demonstrators to apply for permission to the local authorities and stipulates that public events cannot take place within 200m of underground stations and pedestrian crossings. It also requires organizers to take responsibility for public safety measures, as well as measures connected with medical services and cleaning up after the action, all of which they need to finance. As a result of these provisions, many applications were turned down.
In August, Belarus submitted its fourth periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture. The report rejected the recommendation made by the Committee in 2000 to introduce a definition of torture into the Criminal Code in accordance with the definition in the UN Convention against Torture, and claimed that all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were examined by prosecutors. However, according to a shadow report submitted by NGOs in December, complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office rarely led to criminal investigations for torture and were usually subject to a superficial investigation which did not extend beyond interviewing the police officers alleged to be the perpetrators.
By the end of the year, 29 people including six opposition presidential candidates, members of their campaign teams and journalists were charged with “organizing mass disorder” in connection with the demonstrations on 19 December. They faced a possible maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Many of them had been charged solely for the peaceful expression of their views; at least 16 of them were prisoners of conscience.
Military service remained compulsory, but discussions were ongoing with regard to a draft law on alternative service and two conscientious objectors were acquitted during the year.Top of page