Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus who came to power in 1994, has won his sixth presidential election. The preliminary results show a landslide victory, giving Lukashenko 80% of the vote and his main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, just 10%. Nationwide protests have broken out in response and we should view these results as falsely reported.
Election day itself was full of strange anomalies: internet access was reportedly disrupted and independent observers say they were prevented from monitoring the vote. There have even been suggestions that turnout exceeded 100% at some polling stations.
After the state-controlled exit polls showed victory for the president, nationwide protests broke out. Thousands of people who were outraged with the results took to the streets. In more than 30 cities demonstrators clashed with police, who responded to their marches with excessive violence.
There were clear signs that Lukashenko was preparing to face such a backlash from an early stage. During the campaigning period, he seemed more focused on visiting military bases than meeting the public. Anti-riot equipment was brought into the country’s capital before the election.
In Minsk, riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and shock grenades on unarmed people. About 3,000 were detained during the protests. According to human rights centre Viasna, one person died after being run over by a security-forces vehicle and many other protestors were injured.
Lukashenko had been confronted by an unexpectedly strong opponent in this election in the form of Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher and a housewife who did not originally plan running at all. It was her blogger husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who had harboured presidential ambitions. Not long after declaring his intention to run, Tikhanovsky was arrested and prevented from registering as a candidate. His wife took up the torch and managed to become a candidate herself. She has rejected the official results, and more protests are planned for the coming days.
It is perhaps ironic that Lukashenko faced his gravest challenge from a unified front of three women – Tikhanovskaya herself, Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of another opponent who was unable to stand, and Maria Kolesnikova, the campaign manager of another. Tikhanovskaya was allowed to proceed in the election, with Lukashenko not initially seeing her as a great threat. Lukashenko has in the past disparaged the possibility of a female president, claiming that a woman would “collapse” under the weight of such responsibility.
The campaigning efforts of these three women in an authoritarian state like Belarus have been highly impressive. They held rallies across the country to a rapturous response. At one point, a rally in Minsk in support of Tikhanovskaya attracted more than 63,000 people.
The genie leaves the bottle
Despite the result of this vote, the situation is not entirely hopeless in “Europe’s last dictatorship”. Change is, without doubt, in the air. There is a new willingness to challenge the regime, and unprecedented mobilisation – as was seen both before and after the election. In some smaller cities there were reports of security forces lowering their shields rather than reacting violently. This is potentially a sign that Belarus is at a tipping point, although it is difficult to say what will happen next.
Belarusians are increasingly unable to tolerate the authoritarian tactics of Lukashenko and the determination to oust him is clear. While Tikhanovskaya has obviously had a galvanising effect, the protests were not initiated by her but rather represent an outpouring of anger against the regime.
Lukashenko’s power is becoming fragile. He has relied on a mixture of repression and elite loyalty, but also, to an extent, popular support. This latter pillar has been eroding over the years, with the last independent poll conducted in 2016 showing only 30% support for the president. A worsening economy, the chaotic handling of the pandemic, and the emergence of an energising opponent have all served to widen the disconnect between the Belarusian president and people.
Internationally too, Lukashenko walks away from the election weakened. His attempts in recent years to build better relations with the EU to counterbalance the influence of Russia are likely to be undermined, especially after the violent crackdowns of post-election protestors. The EU imposed sanctions after similar repressive actions following the 2010 election, and some member states are already raising the possibility of applying them again.
Improved ties to the west had been crucial to Lukashenko in fending off pressure from Vladimir Putin for closer integration between the two countries. Any damage to these ties is likely to result in the president losing bargaining power with Russia. That would really put Lukashenko in a tricky spot. Whatever the actual results of the election, the genie has been well and truly let out of the bottle.
The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Belarus.
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The following article reports on the raiding of a pastor’s house in Belarus.
On August 31 it became known that the settlement account of New Life church had been arrested by the Oktyabrskiy department of Belarusbank Ltd, reports New Life church Information Center.
As bank officials informed the accountant Nadezhda Kovshik, the account ‘has been arrested due to the corresponding requirement from the Economic court of Minsk regarding the indisputable penalties of 9 million and 250 million rubles’.
At that instance there was a sum of 935 000 BLR in the account which was made available to the Economic court. From now onwards any money transferred to the church account will be confiscated.
Sergey Likanin, the church lawyer, thus commented on the issue: “So, law enforcement officers have proceeded to the execution of the court decisions according to which the church had been convicted of the environment pollution by oil. It is such a pity that the believers’ offerings should be arrested based on such an unlawful judicial act. Bank account arrest may make charity work difficult as the church co-operates with the Belarusian Red Cross and other charity organizations but the community
itself will not be endangered. According to judicial procedures there might be attempts to arrest the property in the church building but we believe that the Lord will not let authorities act aggressively towards the Christians, who are not to blame.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Belarusian officials continue to harass New Life Full Gospel Church, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. On 4 January the church received a summons from the Minsk City Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Committee, claiming that the church had polluted the ground around its building with oil, causing large amounts of damage.
Church members reject the allegation, Sergei Lukanin noting that "for some reason they only took samples from the road which comes into the car park. Of course they’re going to find traces of oil there."
Belarus also continues to persecute people for the "offence" of unregistered religious activity. Challenged about two heavy fines of a pensioner for this "offence", Lyudmila Paprakova of Grodno Ideology Department told Forum 18 that "we don’t have such persecution here. We’re absolutely democratic." After a woman was fined for allowing her home to be used for unregistered worship, Alla Starikevich of Brest City Ideology Department described the role of officials who started the case as "to maintain mutual relations with religious communities."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
On November 19-20 in Tallin (Estonia) and Helsinki (Finland) a Belarussian human rights advocate, expert of the Humanitarian Technologies Agency (Minsk), Denis Hil made a speech. The subject of the meeting was a presentation of the report about problem of faith right violations in Belarus, reports center "The Other Europe".
Representatives of Finish and Baltic public organizations took part in the meetings and learned that the recent statements of Lukashenko about a possible liberalization and a European course of Belarussian inner policy is not more, than a political game. Its aim is to mislead public opinion of the EU.
Denis noted, that today there is a danger, that the EU can ignore the human rights violations in Belarus for economical benefits. "Unfortunately, we have to state the fact that the Lukashenko statements do not correspond to reality. Recently, situation with liberty of faith don’t become better. On the contrary, new obstacles have appeared in activity of even registered churches and church unions", said Denis Hil in Tallin.
In Helsinki took place a similar meeting with representatives of public organizations and journalists in office of IRR-TV. Denis Hil took part in a program for Finish 7th channel, several radio stations and print medias.
Today the situation with human rights in Belarus fills with misgivings. According to law of liberty of conscience for 2002 year, any religious activity without state registration is prohibited. An artificial legal paradox was created. The matter is that to get a registration, a religious organization should have at least 20 followers. But it is prohibited to lead any activity to get these followers.
Thereby, legally registrate its parish can just traditional churches: Orthodox, Catholic, in some cases Lutherans. Other Protestant churches are significantly dead in rights to spread their beliefs.
Such laws create prerequisites for restraint on activity of registrated religious organization. According to the 25th article of law of liberty of concscience, religious organizations cant arrange religious meetings (worships) in rented (not church) buildings without permission of public authorities.
Religious congregations don`t have a right to establish their own mass medias and educational institutions, to train priests, invite foreign religious workers etc. Such rights have just registered religious organizations.
According to the news law, a religious organization can be created if it has no less than ten congregations, one of which worked in Belarus not less, than 20 years. Many of recently appeared religious organizations wont be able to create a union in the nearest future. It puts obstacles in the way of confessing one`s faith.
Members of religious organizations can`t spread their religious views, preach, give spiritual literature, worship etc, out of the place, where the congregation was registered. According to the new law, activity of a religious organization can be realized just on the territory, where act registered congregations, ingressed into the union. That is why, any missionary activity becomes illegal and spreading of religious views is restricted.
State authorities recently without any reason refuse religious organizations permission to get places for building churches.
State mass media of Belarus often spread insulting inadequate information about activity of religious organizations. Many organizations are called "sects" and "contrasting with Orthodox confession, which is traditional for Belarussian people". First of all, such information is spread by state mass media.
The Belorussian expert underlined the necessity of common actions of public and religious organizations in protecting the basic human rights, one of which is liberty of faith.
During the discussion in Tallin, a representative of a center "The Other Europe" (Latvia) Pavel Levushkan said, that people in Baltic countries understand problems in Belarus very well, because several years ago religious confessions in our countries were experiensing persecutions in Soviet times. He also said that "The Other Europe" realizes constant monitoring of the situation. "Just real actions, not declarations, should be taken into account by EU authorities", added the Latvian guest.
An expert of portal Liberty of Faith Dmitry Sargin has drawn attention of the present on the fact, that Lukashenko didn`t explain yet what happened with the missing opposition representatives. "What is the role of Belarussian president and secret services in the disappearing of people? What were the results of the investigation? We don`t have answers yet. What dialogue is possible with the country, where disappeare people, having opposite views from the official? If Belarus wants to dialogue with the EU, its authorities should take norms of civilized politician discussian".
Report from the Christian Telegraph
By Piero A. Tozzi
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 12, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Activist organization Amnesty International is putting its weight behind an Australian bill seeking to legalize "same-sex marriage" in that country, claiming that "internationally recognized" non-discrimination norms dictate such a result.
In a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Australia’s Senate, Amnesty’s Australian affiliate contends that laws limiting the right to marry to opposite-sex couples amounts to "arbitrary discrimination" in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The group further interprets a provision of the ICCPR guaranteeing adults the right to enter into "consensual marriage" as applying to same-sex couplings. Critics contend this distorts the meaning of the word "marriage" without regard to context and the apparent intent of the drafters. The ICCPR provision cited, Article 23, states that "The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized," and that "No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses."
Underscoring what critics say is the problem of United Nations (UN) treaty monitoring bodies exceeding their mandates and seeking to reinterpret treaties to include novel concepts not agreed upon by those who negotiated or ratified the treaties, Amnesty asserts that "For more than a decade, non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation has been an internationally recognized principle which has been endorsed by UN treaty bodies and numerous inter-governmental human rights bodies." Specifically, Amnesty cites interpretations of the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by their respective treaty monitoring bodies as forming a soft-law jurisprudence in favor of a new non-discrimination category.
The creation of such a non-discrimination category is hotly-contested among UN member states, however. To date, efforts to enshrine "sexual-orientation and gender identity" as a category on par with ones such as race and religion in a legally binding document have been repeatedly rejected.
Amnesty points to a French-initiated statement signed by roughly 65 member states, including Australia, last December asserting the existence of a non-discrimination category based on sexual orientation and gender identity in support of Amnesty’s call to allow same-sex couples to enter into "a legally binding union of couples, otherwise known as marriage." The Amnesty submission contends that preventing "same-sex couples from entering into a legally binding union on the basis of sexual orientation" contravenes "the statement Australia supported in the UN General Assembly last year."
A contemporaneous counterstatement, however, signed by nearly 60 nations, principally from the Islamic world, Africa and Oceania, along with independent statements made by Russia, Belarus and the Holy See, pointed out that no non-discrimination category based on sexual orientation and gender identity exists in international law. Amnesty’s submission makes no reference to the counterstatement.
Critics of the French-led statement pointed out at the time that, though non-binding and supported by only a minority of member states, advocates would hail it as a soft-law norm signaling of a movement by states toward a rights-based acceptance of homosexual conduct – in this particular case, using it to place same-sex unions on par with marriage.
This Report from LifeSiteNews.com
U.S. religious rights panel cites culture of impunity at authorities allowing atrocities.
NEW DELHI, August 18 (Compass Direct News) – Ahead of one-year remembrances of massive anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has put India on its “Watch List” for the country’s violations of religious freedom, evoking strong reactions from the Indian government.
USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said in a statement on Wednesday (Aug. 12) that it was “extremely disappointing” that India “has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege.”
The U.S. panel’s decision was “regrettable,” a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Vishnu Prakash, said in a statement on Thursday (Aug. 13), after the USCIRF put India on the list due to a “disturbing increase” in violence on minorities and a growing culture of impunity in the country.
Violence erupted in Kandhamal district of the eastern state of Orissa in August-September 2008, killing more than 100 people and burning 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to rights groups such as the All India Christian Council (AICC), the Global Council of India Christians (GCIC) and the Christian Legal Association (CLA).
“India’s democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law, most notably state and central judiciaries and police, have emerged as unwilling or unable to seek redress for victims of the violence,” Leo said. “More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable.”
Disagreeing with the USCIRF report, the foreign ministry’s Prakash said India is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. “The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of religion and equality of opportunity to all its citizens, who live and work together in peace and harmony,” he said.
Christians were shocked by the foreign ministry spokesman’s claim that “aberrations, if any, are dealt with promptly within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media.”
Attorney Robin Ratnakar David, president of the CLA, told Compass that one year after the violence only six people have been convicted in just two cases of rioting, while several suspects have been acquitted in four such cases despite the formation of fast-track courts.
Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the AICC, pointed out that the more than 50,000 people who fled to forests or took shelter in refugee camps have not returned home out of fear of Hindu nationalist extremists who demand they either convert to Hinduism or leave their villages.
He said there also had been several “pogroms against Muslims, often sponsored or condoned by the state.”
In 2002, India’s worst-ever anti-Muslim violence occurred in the western state of Gujarat. A compartment of a train, the Sabarmati Express, caught fire – or was set on fire (as claimed by Hindu extremists) – near the Godhra city railway station on Feb. 27. In the fire, 58 Hindu passengers, mainly supporters of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), were killed. The VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed it was an attack by Islamic terrorists; the ensuing violence killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Following the anti-Muslim violence, the USCIRF recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. India was removed from the CPC list in 2005.
Designation on the Watch List means a country requires “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government,” according to USCIRF. The other countries on USCIRF’s Watch List are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.
CLA attorney David said the August-September 2008 violence in Kandhamal could have been prevented had the administration brought to justice those responsible for previous mayhem in December 2007. The December 2007 violence in Kandhamal killed at least four Christians, burned as many as 730 houses and 95 churches and rendered thousands homeless.
The attacks were launched under the pretext of avenging an alleged attack on a VHP leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. It was the assassination of Saraswati by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23, 2008 that sparked the second spate of violence in Kandhamal, as Hindu nationalists blamed non-Marxist, local Christians for it.
Dayal said the USCIRF’s latest conclusions could have been avoided if more action had been taken against the perpetrators of last year’s violence.
“The USCRIF action would not have been possible, and India would have been able to rebuff the U.S. scrutiny more effectively, if several thousand Christians were still not in refugee camps, if the killers were still not roaming scot-free and if witnesses, including widows, were not being coerced,” he said.
Shashi Tharoor, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, told a private news channel that India did not need approbation from outside its borders.
“As far as we are concerned, we are essentially indifferent to how others view the situation,” he said. “In democracy, what matters to us is how we deal with our own internal issues. I don’t think we need any certificates from outside.”
He dismissed the report as meddling in internal affairs even though between June 2002 and February 2007 Tharoor served as under-secretary general for communications and public information for the United Nations, a body representative of international accountability in human rights.
In its annual report, India’s home (interior) ministry had acknowledged that the incidence of communal violence was high. It noted that in 2008, as many as 943 communal incidents (mainly against Muslims and Christians) took place in which 167 persons were killed and 2,354 persons were injured. The figures were up from those of 2007, when there were 761 incidents in which 99 persons were killed and 2,227 persons were injured.
Justifying its decision, the USCIRF report stated that several incidents of communal violence have occurred in various parts of the country resulting in many deaths and mass displacements, particularly of members of the Christian and Muslim minorities, “including major incidents against Christian communities within the 2008-2009 reporting period.”
“Because the government’s response at the state and local levels has been found to be largely inadequate and the national government has failed to take effective measures to ensure the rights of religious minorities in several states, the Commission decided to place India on its Watch List.”
The USCIRF had released its 2009 annual report on religious freedom across the globe on May 1 but put the India report on hold, planning to prepare it after a visit to the country in June. A USCIRF team planned to visit India to speak to the government and others concerning the situation in Kandhamal and Gujarat on June 12, but the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. did not provide visas in time.
“USCIRF’s India chapter was released this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Christian violence in Orissa,” Leo pointed out in last week’s statement.
The AICC’s Dayal seemed pessimistic about a change in the government’s attitude.
“Unfortunately, nothing really impacts the government of India or the government of Indian states,” he said. “The state, and our social conscience, seems Teflon-coated. The patriotic media and political sector dismiss international scrutiny as interference in the internal affairs of India, and a beaten-into-submission section of the leadership of religious minorities assumes silence to be the best form of security and safety.”
Dr. Sajan George, the national convenor of the GCIC, said the report showed that India had become a “super violator” of human rights. The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the U.S. panel’s report did not augur well with India’s claim to find a respectable place within the community of nations.
“India as an emerging economic power in the world should also endeavor to better its records of protecting human rights, particularly when it comes to religious freedom of its citizens,” Joseph said.
Joseph told Compass the USCIRF report was “a clear indication of the growing concern of the international community with India’s repeated failure to take decisive and corrective measures to contain religious intolerance.”
Christian leaders generally lauded the report, with Dayal saying, “India’s record on the persecution of minorities and the violation of religious freedom has been a matter of international shame for the nation.”
Report from Compass Direct News