Belarusian authorities respond to unauthorized protest activity of opposition with financial persecution

April 22, 2016 19:36

Participants of the unauthorized opposition action at the KGB building in Minsk to commemorate victims of political repressions were punished with heavy fines. Apparently, the authorities have changed their approach to dealing with unauthorized protest activity of the opposition in the capital and regions. The security services no longer apply harsh repressive measures or detain members of the opposition for organizing unauthorized rallies, they only file administrative protocols against the organizers and most active participants. Later, courts issue heavy fines (the largest possible) on those charges. For instance, last month, in Minsk alone opposition leaders and activists paid over BYR 83 million (USD 4 700) to the state budget in fines. The authorities are attempting to drain the opposition financially in order to reduce their protest activity.

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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.