Belarusian Mass Trials Continue After Fresh Crackdown On Protesters
Courts in Belarus have begun hearing cases and imposing short jail sentences and fines on some of the estimated 400 people who were detained during antigovernment demonstrations in Minsk and other cities on July 6.
A Belarusian rights group estimated several thousand participated nationwide in the latest country-wide opposition protests against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.
The group, Vyasna, said the authorities arrested at least 400 people, including 180 in the capital and 220 in other regional centers.
According to the Belarusian Journalists Association, about 25 journalists were among the detained. The association said on its website that most reporters were released after being harassed and told not to take pictures or shoot videos.
One RFE/RL journalist is expected to appear in court today.
The protests took place in response to a call on the Internet by the Revolution Through the Social Network group -- the latest in a series of such Wednesday protests.
As in previous demonstrations, protesters did not chant slogans or brandish banners but merely stood in silence.
RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported that designated meeting points were cordoned off and under heavy police guard. Plainclothes police took away people who gathered at the venues, including one young man who spoke to an RFE/RL correspondent as both were being taken to a police station.
He said it was "hard to say why" he was detained. "I came out of the library at about 7:45 as it was closing. I have my membership card with me. I heard people shouting. I came up closer and then an athletic-looking man grabbed my arm and said, 'Go away.' I said, 'OK, where should I go?' He brought me here, they put me inside, so here I am."
Highlighting harassment journalists are facing, the RFE/RL correspondent was later released, detained again, and re-released.
A video clip showed plainclothes men putting a lone protester into an unmarked minivan and protesters clapping outside the National Library in Minsk as a man asked, "Why are you taking this person?"
Vyasna spokesman Valentin Stefanovich told the AP news agency that the authorities had adopted a "new tactic," detaining people before the protests start.
Internet activist Vyecheslav Dianov said the rallies will continue, telling the AFP news agency, "We will be thinking of people's safety and changing our strategy."
Crackdown On Protests
Lukashenka launched a crackdown on the opposition after mass protests erupted following his reelection in December.
Belarusian courts are still processing cases of protesters from the previous rally on July 3, which likewise saw hundreds of arrests.
Rights activists say over 1,700 protesters have been tried over the past month and given fines of up to $200 and/or jail terms of between five and 15 days on charges of petty hooliganism, disrupting public disorder, or taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill to support democracy and human rights in Belarus.
The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, approved late on July 6, calls for the release of all political prisoners and refuses to recognize the results of December's presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
In a statement, the author of the bill, Republican Representative Chris Smith, said, "This bill encourages those struggling for decency and basic rights against the overwhelming pressures from the antidemocratic regime."
Both the United Sates and European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus, including assets freezes and travel bans on a number of top officials, in response to the postelection crackdown.
In Moscow, in a show of solidarity for the protesters, dozens of people clapped hands outside the Belarusian Embassy.
"We know that people who are not happy with the [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka regime hold or try to hold such actions each Wednesday in Belarus," the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, told Reuters.
"We also know how violently and harshly those peaceful actions are dispersed there. Today, thank God, we managed to hold such action without being dispersed here in Moscow, although we were not sure that our authorities would not do the same as those in Belarus."
with agency reports
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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