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UN VOICES CONCERN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS

Peaceful protests broke out in Belarus after the long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, secured 80% of the total votes in the recent Presidential election- an election that his opponents say was rigged. 


The police were found to have used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, firing rubber bullets, using water cannons and throwing stun grenades at them while carrying out thousands of arrests.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has released a statement saying, “Reports suggest that more (than) approximately 6,000 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," said Michelle Bachelet, calling for the immediate release of those who have been unlawfully detained and pushing for an impartial investigation into the alleged human rights violations in Belarus. And, on Thursday, Belarus began releasing some of the thousands of people it had detained only to arrest another 700 people.


"Free flow of information is crucial in any democratic society, and especially in a context of crisis and social unrest," said Bachelet, voicing concern for the internet shutdowns there as well as the blocking of many social media platforms. Since Sunday, intermittent internet shutdowns, social media platform stoppages, and blocked NGO and news websites have diminished citizens’ right of freedom of expression, especially the right to seek and provide information. On the day of the election and in the following days, access to the internet was partially or entirely restricted across the Country. All this combined has put Belarusians in an information vacuum.


The OHCHR( Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) emphasized that the pandemic has compelled people to express dissent online rather than on the streets. They highlighted the importance of protecting the right to peacefully protest online. 


The police have also targeted press photographers, pulling out memory cards and breaking cameras. In fact, a Reuters witness saw at least two news photographers being attacked and their cameras being damaged.


President Alexander, alleging that foreign countries were supporting the protestors in order to destabilise the country, dismissed the protestors as 'criminals' and 'unemployed' individuals. 


At least 6,700 citizens have been detained in spite of the demonstrations have been largely peaceful. Around 300 people have been injured, and two deaths have been reported. A Reuters witness saw security forces detaining dozens of people and beating protesters on the street. Another witness saw security forces smashing car windows and dragging some people out of vehicles to attack them. State TV has also shown some bruised detainees lined up and being asked if they intend to continue "making the revolution".


The government said that one man died while attempting to throw an unidentified explosive device at the police which eventually blew up in his hands. Following this incident, UN Human Rights experts said, “the authorities only seem interested in quickly dispersing the protests and arresting as many people as possible. Under no circumstances should anybody be physically harmed or criminally detained for peacefully taking part in a protest,”


Officials say the cause of the second death is unclear. The victim's mother says he had heart problems and was kept for hours in a police van. The man had been arrested on Sunday and later sentenced to 10 days in prison for taking part in an illegal protest. However, the victim's mother told Radio Free Europe that her son had not taken part in many protests and was arrested as he was going to see his girlfriend. He was taken to the hospital when he started to feel unwell - but later died. The incident is still under investigation.


Due to the violent suppression of protestors and mass arrests, Belarus has started to pressure from the international community to cease human rights violations. But, it is uncertain whether President Alexander Lukashenko will take into account these concerns, he never did and he probably won't, at least not today.


Reporter: Hannen Farid

Bangalore, India | epicenter.newsmedia@gmail.com

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