Wednesday 9 August marks three years since the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko declared his victory in the falsified elections of that day and the brutal crackdown of the following nationwide protests. Ahead of the anniversary, Libereco in cooperation with Belarusian Human Rights Centre Viasna has gathered new numbers and eyewitness accounts summing up three years of protest and repression.
Back in summer 2020, Belarus has seen its largest demonstrations since its independence. Hundreds of thousands people demanded democratic reforms and respect for constitutional and human rights. Since this peaceful democratic uprising against the regime of long-time dictator Alexander Lukashenko, prosecution against political opponents has highly intensified and escalated into full scale repression against everyone who expresses dissenting opinions or or even the most meritocratic criticism – including on the Belarusian regime’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- In the last three years more than 40,000 people have been arrested and at least 3,788 people have been sentenced in politically motivated criminal trials (including in absentia).
- Viasna has designated 2,419 persons as political prisoners since August 2020, of whom 1,486 are behind bars today – 1,321 men, 164 women, and 1 transgender person.
- Three people – Vitold Ashurak, Mikalai Klimovich, and Ales Pushkin – died in prison.
- One of the political prisoners is the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ales Bialiatski, who was sentenced to ten years in prison in early 2023. In prison, the more prominent political prisoners are kept in isolation and they are denied legal and medical assistance. There has been no sign of life from Viktar Babaryka and Maria Kalesnikava for months.
- All political prisoners are exposed to harassment, physical and psychological torture, and ill-treatment. To support them directly and indirectly, Libereco runs the godparenthood campaign #WeStandBYyou. So far, 388 MPs from 23 European countries have symbolically adopted a Belarusian political prisoner.
- The youngest current political prisoner is 15 years, the oldest 75 years.
- 18 persons, including 2 women, were sentenced to 20 or more years
- The detention was tightened from colony to prison for 55 persons, 28 persons were convicted for breaching prison rules.
- 33 person were pardoned, 6 got an amnesty.
Voices from Belarus
In addition, Libereco has asked former political prisoners and relatives of current imprisoned people about their memories of 9 August 2020. We also wanted to know what the past three years have meant to them and how they see the current situation in Belarus. For safety reasons the respondents are kept anonymous, Libereco knows their identities.
A mother of a current political prisoner who is still living in Belarus:
“I couldn’t even dream of such a level of solidarity and support from Belarusian to Belarusian. I think that, for the first time, Belarusians showed the whole world their true face. This was incredible.”
“Belarus in 2023 is like a burning peat bog. You cannot see the flames but your legs are burning. At any moment it will all burst into flames. Not every generation has an opportunity to do something great for their country. We are lucky in this sense, and this is most important.”
A wife of a current political prisoner, who now lives in exile:
“Most of all I was impressed by our people, their passion, their sacrifice, their thirst for truth and justice, their sincerity, and their desire to change their country for the better. And, to add to all this, their nobility in their words, actions and aims. There wasn’t, in any of them, inhumane anger or hatred to their enemies, even after the murder of our citizens. God is a witness, no Belarusians wished any blood or any torture, and the violence that the regime bestowed on people speaks of the animal fear of being accountable for their evil, the inhumane system and everyone who is part of that system.”
“But, what is most interesting, is that the potential of protests is still alive, even after three years of ongoing repression. Belarusians have not lost their hope and did not surrender. They are patiently waiting for the hour that I believe is going to come soon. Today our country lives in a atmosphere of total fear and mistrust. Some people, feeling that there are no consequences for their actions, engage in unlawful acts and simply terrorise the population. Others, without any means of protecting themselves from terrorists, are trying to protect themselves however they can.”
“Internal occupation by the regime has been replaced by external occupation by Russia. Here everything is submitted and ruled by the ‘Russian world’ (Russkiy mir) and their collaborators. The local authorities destroy everything that is remotely connected to being Belarusian, in connection to our history and culture. Along with that, they are spinning in people’s minds their own ideas of war history. And the state propaganda aims to militarize the population, ideologists already breached into pre-school establishments with their ‘patriotic ideas’. They try to destroy children’s psyche. They are encouraging people to inform on each other. It seems that we live back in the 1930s.”
A former political prisoner who spent 1.5 years behind bars because of participating in the protests 2020 and who recently fled to Germany:
“In the beginning, I did not expect the month to be rich in events. I worked at home for 15 hours in a row, mostly at night, and I was hardly aware of the world’s news. In the early days of August, I noticed small squares of paper with the inscription ‘3%’ scattered around in almost every yard [‘3%’ became a popular shorthand for the meagre actual support that Lukashenko has in Belarusian society.]. Honestly, at that time I thought it was some sort of sale in a small local store. One friend of mine just explained what the point was, but even then, I was sure that all of that was not so serious.”
“Today, the Belarusian democratic movement is not so much about the right way of living, but about the struggle against the wrong [way of life]. And I would put in the forefront that very contrast of a ray of truth with a huge void of ignorance. The idea of the rightness of minority is the most important thing.”