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Over 33,000 protesters held in Belarus in 2020, human rights activists say

Over 900 criminal cases were launched

MINSK, January 6. /TASS/. Since the start of the presidential election campaign in Belarus more than 33,000 people were detained in the country in 2020 for taking part in peaceful rallies and over 900 criminal cases were launched, human rights activists reported.

"The detentions and arrests of participants of peaceful protests in 2020 became massive. Since the start of the election campaign in May until the year-end more than 33,000 citizens were detained, and most of them were subject to administrative arrests and big fines under the courts’ rulings," the Vesna human rights center reported.

The Belarusian authorities "have been actively using criminal prosecution with the goal of carrying out politically motivated prosecution of citizens," it said. According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, criminal cases against more than 900 citizens were launched after the election. Vesna has information on more than 650 defendants in these cases. Some 169 of them were recognized by the Belarusian human rights community as political prisoners.

By late 2020, at least 103 sentences were passed under criminal cases related to events during and after the presidential election. The human rights activists claim that the authorities "used repressions against journalists over their professional activity." According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 19 journalists are isolated as suspects or defendants in criminal cases, 477 journalists were detained and 97 others were under administrative arrest.

Nationwide demonstrations have engulfed Belarus following the August 9 presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission’s official results, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide, garnering 80.10% of the vote. His closest rival in the race, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, came in second, with 10.12% of the ballot. However, she refused to recognize the election’s outcome, and left Belarus for Lithuania. After the results of the exit polls were announced late on August 9, mass protests erupted in downtown Minsk and other Belarusian cities. During the early post-election period, the rallies snowballed into fierce clashes between the protesters and police. The current unrest is being cheered on by the opposition’s Coordination Council, which has been beating the drum for more protests. In response, the Belarusian authorities have castigated the ongoing turmoil and demanded that these unauthorized demonstrations be stopped.