Belarusian police arrested hundreds of demonstrators on Monday, including seven of the nine presidential candidates, who were protesting the results of Sunday's presidential election [press releases, in Russian]. The official results, announced Monday, declared incumbent Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] the winner of the presidency for the fourth time with 79.7 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, when arrested, was allegedly removed from the hospital where he was being treated for injuries after being beaten by police. Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs [official website] Anatoly Kuleshov announced that the activists were being charged with organizing an unsanctioned meeting and could face up to 15 years in prison. The US and EU [press release, PDF] led an international condemnation [AFP report] of the actions by the Belarusian police, calling the poll results illegitimate. The US Embassy in Minsk [official website] released the following statement [press release]:
The United States strongly condemns all election day violence in Belarus. We are especially concerned over excessive use of force by the authorities, including the beating and detention of several presidential candidates and violence against journalists and civil society activists. ... We call on the Government of Belarus to exercise restraint during the remainder of the electoral process, which should be free of further intimidation and violence.Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for the immediate release of those arrested for peaceful participation. AI urged Belarus authorities to investigate the use of force by the riot police [press release] and incidents that instigated the violence.
Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports].While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department [official website] has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [2009 report; JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. In 2008, the Belarus KGB [official website] detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Lukashenko. Also in 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators [JURIST report], including journalists, for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally [BBC report] in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign [JURIST report] was sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky [US State Department backgrounder].