Belarusian authorities bring in strict restrictions for supporters of union with Russia

December 12, 2016 10:12
Image: Deutsche Welle

 

The arrest of three Regnum authors, a Russian news agency, is a clear signal to the nomenclature to readjust their loyalty. The strategic alliance with Russia has been marked with a red line: the unconditional recognition of Belarus’ cultural and political self-determination and sovereignty. Belarusian power bodies remain the main instrument of domestic policy.

On December 8th-10th, the law enforcement conducted searches and detained three authors of Regnum, a Russian news agency, Yuri Pavlovets, Dmitry Alimkin and Sergei Shiptenko (who wrote for Regnum.ru under pseudonyms Nikolai Radov, Alla Bron and Artur Grigoriev) on charges envisaged by part 1 Article 130 of the Criminal Code - incitement of ethnic hatred and enmity. All state TV channels broadly covered the arrests and the reasons behind them.

Belarusian Information Minister Liliya Ananich explained to the media that the ministry launched a compliance assessment of Regnum publications for incitement of ethnic hatred in early November and that numerous components of a crime were discovered. The commission transferred its conclusions to the law enforcement. The Ministry also appealed to the Russian authorities with a request to explain how Regnum’s editorial policy corresponded with the Kremlin policy towards Belarus.

That said, the Belarusian state media emphasised that cases of Regnum and Eduard Palchis, who was recently found guilty under Article 130 of the Criminal Code, were regarded as related - as inciting enmity between the Russian and Belarusian peoples. Apparently, the authorities adhere to the following logic: the state should take harsh measures against anyone who interferes with a common information space with Russia on either side.

Most likely, the Belarusian authorities have long warned supporters of Slavic trinity, Western Russia and other pro-Russian movements denying Belarusian sovereignty, who occupied high positions in the government and voiced discontent with strengthening of the state sovereignty. For instance, the case of former MP and leader of the Belarusian Slavic Committee S. Kostyan, who directly referred to the previous state policy in this regard. Now the rules have changed and the authorities have undertaken a more decisive action.

It should also be noted that the Belarusian authorities often use preventive detentions to ensure the loyalty. The Belarusian authorities are likely to use ad hoc detentions, rather than, for example, closing down broadcasting or media outlets - similar to what they did with independent media. Belarusian power bodies remain the main instrument of domestic policy.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.