Belarus is an authoritarian state in which elections are openly rigged and civil liberties are severely restricted. After permitting limited displays of dissent as part of a drive to pursue better relations with the European Union (EU) and the United States, the government in 2020 cracked down on a massive antigovernment protest movement, sparked by a fraudulent presidential election, and severely limited fundamental civil liberties.
- The government claimed that the incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka won the August presidential election with 80 percent of the vote, though the results were widely denounced as fraudulent. The campaign and election period featured an unfair candidate registration process, the detention of candidates, widespread internet disruptions on election day, and the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding their right to a fair vote.
- A prodemocracy movement led largely by presidential candidates and opposition movement leaders Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo emerged in the run-up to the election and grew massively in numbers after the fraudulent poll. Armed riot police and plainclothes officers used disproportionate, sometimes deadly force to break up the mass demonstrations, and detained over 32,000 people. Reports of beatings, torture, and other human rights abuses of people in detention have since emerged, and security forces beat, arrested, fined, and in some cases shot Belarusian and foreign journalists covering events.
- After the election, authorities imprisoned the founders of a would-be new party and prosecuted the members of the opposition Coordination Council, which united a broad spectrum of civic and political leaders calling for dialogue and peaceful negotiations with the government to resolve the post-election crisis. By the fall, scores of activists and opposition leaders, including Tsikhanouskaya and Tsepkalo, were expelled or had fled the country.
- As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed concerns about the virus as “psychosis” and refused to implement mitigation measures. Continue