Belarusian authorities use financial prosecution to de-motivate activists to participate in protest activity

January 30, 2017 12:06
Фото: "Новы Час"

Public Initiative "A Step towards the Law" started a petition requesting to stop the practice of imposing significant fines for participating in unsanctioned rallies. In fact, fines, according to activists totalling some USD 150,000, have become a heavy burden on civil and political activists. For instance, the authorities seized the car from ‘Malady Front’ leader Zmitser Dashkevich for unpaid fines totalling circa USD 5 000, they are threatening to take away the only apartment from activist Olga Nikolaichik, and the dacha of Nina Baginski. In response to the announced by the opposition several protest actions in support for those affected by the ‘decree on social parasitism’, the authorities have stepped up financial pressure on opposition activists. ‘A Step towards the Law’ initiative is unlikely to find an understanding with the authorities, because demonstrative confiscations and threats of penalties help to reduce the mobilization capacity of the opposition in organising protest actions.

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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.