UN human rights experts have accused Belarus of systematic violations, including crackdowns on protesters and dissidents, that could amount to crimes against humanity. This is according to a report published on Friday.
The document, published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, covers the preparation for the disputed presidential election on August 9, 2020 and the crackdown on protesters and critics in the coming months.
Alexander Lukashenko, a staunch Russian ally whose victory in the 2020 election was not recognized by the West, has denied accusations of wrongdoing and accused foreign states of supporting the protests.
“There are sufficient reasons to believe that systematic, large-scale and gross violations of human rights have been and are being committed in Belarus,” the UN report said. “Certain violations may also constitute crimes against humanity.”
Violations include disproportionate use of force by security services, torture, mass arrests and impunity of security forces.
“We regret that the government of Belarus is unwilling … to respond positively to our assessment and grant us access to the country,” Elisabeth Trossel, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters. .
On Friday, the leaders of the country’s largest independent news site, which was forced to shut down following protests in 2020, were sentenced to long prison terms in Belarus on Friday.
A court in Minsk sentenced Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of Tut.by, 45, and Lyudmila Chekina, managing director, 54, to 12 years in prison.
The women have faced a variety of charges, including tax evasion, which critics say is regularly used as an excuse to stifle dissent, “hate speech”.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader in exile, called the verdicts of Zolotova and Chekina “another attempt by the regime to kill honest journalism in Belarus”. The Belarusian Association of Journalists condemned the verdict as “a cruel revenge for the truth”.
In order to suppress the opposition, the offices of Tut.by were raided. The media group was declared an “extremist organization” in mid-2022 and closed.
Zolotova and Chekina were arrested in May 2021 along with 13 colleagues.
Human rights organization Reporters Without Borders dismissed the allegations against the women as “absurd” and pointed to the fact that the trials were held behind closed doors.
Some of the editorial staff, fearing reprisals, fled the country, notably to Ukraine, and resumed their activities on the Zerkalo site.
In addition, political scientist Valeria Kostyugova and Tatyana Kuzina, founder of the School of Public Administration, were sentenced this Friday by a Belarusian court to 10 years in prison. Both have been charged with inciting hatred, undermining national security and supporting actions to overthrow the government.
In March, Nobel laureate and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Belarus, sparking international outrage.