Interior Ministry is interested in independent criticism of the police during the reforms period
On March 25th, former Deputy Interior Minister, Public Safety Chief Poluden was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and property confiscation for abuse of power.
Police reform creates environment for indirect cooperation between police and Belarusian human rights activists and independent journalists. Ministry of Internal Affairs is temporarily interested in disclosure of shortcomings in police work and to have additional leverage over employees.
The decision about staff cuts and restructuring in the Belarusian Interior Ministry was extremely painful for the police. Some reports say, it has been proposed to cut officers by 20-25%, which could imply lay-offs for over 15,000 employees. In addition, after the Ministry has been stripped off its investigative functions the Ministry’s influence had reduced. De facto, the Ministry has become exclusively the public safety authority.
Bearing in mind the still significant MIA status as the most numerous law enforcement agency in the country, the new Ministry heads are interested in strengthening not only the internal, but also the external – public – pressure on the police. These two motives explain the tough disciplinary and criminal sanctions against senior MIA staff (retirement of Deputy Minister Pekarsky, arrest and conviction of Deputy Minister Poluden, arrest of Internal Security Chief Krotov) and many scandalous and embarrassing materials about grass-roots police officers, “leaking” to human rights organizations and the media.
In particular, information leaks from within the Interior Ministry, such as CCTV footage from a police station or Interior Ministry protected areas (unauthorized access to the metro). On the other hand, it is important to note that the criticism of the MIA is sometimes quite reasonable. For example, on March 5th, Lida Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against five police officers on suspicion of detainees’ abuse.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.