In December last year, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was re-elected president of Belarus, with 79.7% of the vote in elections deemed to fall massively short of OSCE standards. Under his leadership, the Belarusian regime systematically violates basic liberties. The past week has seen a worsening of the situation, with the oppressive regime using unjustifiable violence against protesters seeking democracy and freedom.
Despite a ban on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, in an attempt to try and stifle the protests, the capital Minsk has seen huge anti-Lukashenka demonstrations. The response of the Belarusian Government has been appalling. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have been arrested, and journalists have witnessed protesters being beaten as part of a crackdown across the country.
The more recent examples of “clapping” protesters being arrested, and previous brutal oppression of those opposed to the regime by, for example, the arrest of opposition candidates following the election, really highlight the severity of the situation. The actions being taken by the Governments militia mean that the safety of young liberal protesters is at serious risk.
The treatment of protesters is of great concern. The highly regarded Presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov was recently arrested, after being thuggishly attacked by members of the regime – causing critical wounds. It has become clear that his medical requirements are not being met, made evident by his lawyer being threatened with disbarment when raising the issue in court. Amnesty international are campaigning for his release along with that of many other political campaigners and journalists.
It has become easy in recent weeks to focus on the amazing events of the Arab Spring and their struggle for liberty. However there is a nation on Europe’s doorstep craving the same rights and freedoms we enjoy. Prisoners such as Sannikov have perhaps not been forgotten, but their struggles put on the back burner, within the current international climate. International efforts to free these prisoners and protect protesters from the regime have proved weak and ineffective. Despite open condemnation from the EU earlier this year, Lukashenka has begun to come down harder on political protesters. His authoritarian regime appears to be under the international radar. For political protesters, many of whom are young, it means they have no real protection.
However the international community has a real chance to make amends and protect the citizens of Belarus. The Belarusian economy has fallen into turmoil, with rising unemployment and a worthless currency. The regime wants a loan from the IMF of $8bn over the next 5 years. The IMF should allow this loan to go ahead. If certain conditions to allow greater economic freedoms in Belarus come with this loan then Lukashenka’s rule will be undermined. Greater geographical movement, in particular student visas will open up the country to the west.
The international community must put pressure on the IMF to include the release of certain political prisoners, such as Sannikov. Doing so would undermine the regime, and guarantee the safety of liberal campaigners across the country. The international community has an opportunity to rid the world of a brutal dictator – this should not be passed up.