Weekly report: crackdowns against nomination groups and activists
Observation of the presidential election is carried out by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” in the framework of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”.
- as compared to the previous presidential election, this year’s campaign, despite the COVID-19 crisis, is characterized by widespread media and street activity of individual candidates. The deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the country and the authorities’ controversial policies in response to the pandemic became a catalyst for public discontent and led to a certain increase in election-related protests;
- in the Belarusian media, the topic of COVID-19 competes with the topic of the presidential election, and in a number of media outlets it predominates. Among the potential candidates and their nomination groups, most media attention has been received by the activism of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s nomination group, and more precisely, the speeches of the head of her group, blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, as well as the activities of Viktar Babaryka and Valery Tsapkala;
- the activity of the nominees and their representatives provoked negative statements from the incumbent about his rivals for the presidency;
- on May 29, during a picket to collect signatures for the nomination of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Hrodna, the head of her nomination group, YouTube blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested. The arrest took place after clearly illegal interference of police officers in communication between the voters and the head of the nomination group. The incident that preceded the arrest was broadcast by state-controlled media. On May 30, official sources said that a criminal investigation had been opened into an alleged act of violence against police officers, in which Siarhei Tsikhanouski and other detainees were allegedly involved;
- many officials actively commented on the incident in Hrodna, elaborating on the President’s negative assessments of the government’s opponents;
- following the events in Hrodna, attempts by police officers to prevent the holding of pickets to collect signatures were reported in different cities of the country. Such actions by police officers are an illegal obstacle to the exercise of the right to collect signatures in support of the nomination of presidential candidates;
- on May 31, numerous bloggers and activists were arrested across the country, including members of several nomination groups. These facts can be seen as attempts by the authorities to disrupt the conduct of pickets to collect signatures, which have become widespread;
- local executive and administrative bodies have named the places where collecting signatures for the nomination of presidential candidates is prohibited. The campaign’s experts believe that the list of forbidden places will not create serious obstacles to the collection of signatures by nomination groups. At the same time, there is a lack of a unified approach of local authorities to prohibiting the collection of signatures in certain parts of the major cities. However, the absence of a ban on the collection of signatures on the territories of enterprises and institutions (in particular, educational and health care institutions) creates conditions for the use of their administrative resources in the interests of one of the presidential candidates;
- campaign observers report abuse of administrative resources in collecting signatures in support of Lukashenka at enterprises and educational institutions. Similar reports were also published by the media, social networks and popular Telegram channels;
- all appeals against the decisions of local councils of deputies and local executive committees on the formation of election commissions were dismissed. The courts limited themselves to verifying compliance with the formal requirements of the Electoral Code on the procedure for forming election commissions and avoided assessing violations of the principle of equality. As previously noted by experts of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, the absence of legal guarantees for the representation in the election commissions of all political entities participating in the elections results in an arbitrary and discriminatory approach to opposition parties and groups, while the envisaged judicial appeal procedure continues to be highly ineffective;
- the courts turned down all the appeals against the CEC’s decisions to deny registration to nomination groups. Just like the appeals against decisions to establish the TECs, these complaints were considered in an extremely formal manner, as the courts did not take steps to clarify all the circumstances of the case and establish the truth.
The full observation report is available to download below.