Belarus held elections for members of parliament Sunday, despite a boycott by opposition parties. Many of the largest opposition parties agreed to not vote in the elections and pull their candidates, believing the results are predetermined. Despite the boycott, voter turnout was reported as at least over 50 percent [RFE report], which will allow the election results to stand. The Central Election Commission (CEC) [official website, in Russian] reported 66 percent voter turnout at one point, but international poll observers contend the number was inflated [WP report]. Parties involved in the boycott include the United Civil Part of Belarus [official website, in Russian], Zmena [official profile], and the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) [official website, in Belarusian]. Five opposition group leaders issued an interview [Belarus Partisan report, in Russian] stating they do not recognize the election results as legitimate. Opposition reports have indicated that polling station observers have gone missing and the government has preemptively shut down planned post-election protests [Charter 97 reports, in Russian]. State run media in Belarus reported above expectation voter turnout and some complaints and minor errors [Belarusian Telegraph Agency reports] but no significant problems. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] warned [press release] Thursday that opposition protesters could be under attack by the government, noting that at least five had already been arrested and detained. Election results are due to be announced Monday.
Belarus has been under increasing criticism for what many see as a rapid decline of human rights in the Eastern European nation. In January, internet restrictions were put in place [JURIST report], creating several limitations on Internet access. JURIST Guest Columnist Johann Bihr, Director of the Press Desk for Europe and Central Asia at Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] argued [JURIST comment] that the law not only limits the online freedoms of individuals, but also creates harsh penalties for Internet providers, all in a government effort to exert more control over citizens. Days before, US President Barack Obama signed the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 [JURIST report], which imposed new sanctions on Belarus. The new sanctions required the US to investigate Belarus' arms deals and its possible censorship of the Internet, as well as denying visas to a list of Belarusian officials. In November a Belarus court convicted [JURIST report] human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the president of Viasana and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy websites], of tax evasion, sentencing him to a four-and-a-half-year prison term amid international criticism.