Belarus: Clampdown in Minsk

Free Belarus activists!

A full frontal attack on the opposition to the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in Belarus, appears to have been launched. Last week, Oleg Bebenin, one of the country’s leading journalists and founder of the human right’s group ‘Charter 77’, was found hung at his dacha. There is no evidence or signs that he had intention of taking his own life. He had just sent an SMS to his wife about going to the cinema.

Although both the EU and the OSCE have called for an open enquiry into his death, they have been trying to find an accommodation with the regime over the past months. Behind the scenes discussions have been taking place, the approach of which is summed up in the words of the latest EU visitor, Czech Senator Tomas Jirsa, who said: “I am leaving with the opinion that also in the future there are no problems for Czech Republic to support Belarus either in the framework of bilateral relations or at the EU level”.

Even before Bebinin’s death, the atmosphere of fear was being ratcheted up by the regime. At the beginning of this year, 6 youth activists at different times were kidnapped, taken into the forest, hooded and subjected to mock executions. They were told the execution would be carried out if they continued to oppose Lukashenko. Activists are now comparing the period with the dark years of 1996-7, when oppositionists suffered a wave of disappearances, murders and arrests.

Oleg Bebenin was found dead

Lukashenko, during his 16 year rule, has continuously maneuvered between the EU and Russia. But his relationship with Russia has taken a significant turn for the worst in the last few months. As one of the key energy transit routes between the EU and Russia, Lukashenko has used the position to avoid paying market prices for the transport of energy and reportedly, so far this year, Belarus has not paid for any energy.

Russia is angry. In the past weeks it has started showing TV documentaries aimed at undermining Lukashenko, including one exposing the corrupt deals he has been engaged in. But Lukashenko faces a dilemna – if he pays Russia, he has no money to maintain for the relative economic stability that gives him a certain level of passive support in the country.

It is clear, that squeezed between his giant neighbours, Lukashenko is feeling the pressure. And he has to manage next spring’s Presidential election, to ensure he gets a good vote. Last election, his main opposition candidate was pro-EU, this time it is likely he will face a pro-Russian candidate. Having a common language and history, he may feel more under threat by this. The election date is due to be announced in the next few days. And he has to maintain power for at least another 12 years if he is to fulfill his stated ambition of handing over power to his son. The boy is still only 6 years old but is already appearing at the side of his father in official events.

Since Bebinin’s death, an extraordinary series of events has unfolded that has led to the arrest of young left wing activists. Over Sunday night someone threw 2 Molotov cocktails at the Russian Embassy in Minsk.

Given the tension between Moscow and Minsk, this was widely covered in the Russian press. Lukashenko accused the Russians of organising the attack on their own embassy. But on 3 September, eight Belarus youth activists, mainly anarchistsk, were arrested. One was later released after questioning.

Anton Laptenok, Igor Bogachek, Sergei Slyusar, Nikolai Dedok, Valerii Khotina, Alexander Frantskevich and Alexei Zhingerovskii are being held in the notorious remand prison ‘Okrestina’ and relatives and friends have been unable to contact them. Although under Belarus law, the police are only allowed to hold people for 72 hours without charge, when relatives turned up on 6 September, they were not released and are being held for another 3 days. This indicates the police have no evidence and that they are trying to force confessions out of the seven.

On 6 September, an unidentified person threw two Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs) against the prison in which the seven are being held. An unknown group, named ‘Friends of Freedom’, claimed responsibility. Now other lefts are being arrested. The police are talking about charges connected to “serial arson” – charges which carry long sentences.

We can have no confidence in the Belarus police and court systems. It has been shown that the courts exist just to rubber-stamp decisions made by the police and political leaders. We demand the immediate release of the seven arrested. We believe that the arrests are just another attempt to take activists out of action in the run up to the election and we demand from the Belarus authorities that they cease their repression of the left, anarchist and anti-fascist movement.

A model protest letter in Russian is below. This can be signed and sent to for forwarding to the relevant authorities in Belarus.

A suitable protest letter, in Russian, is below. This can be signed and sent to for forwarding to the relevant authorities in Belarus.

В Генеральную Прокуратуру Республики Беларусь

В Главное Управление Внутренних Дел Минского Горисполкома

В Комитет Государственной Безопасности Республики Беларусь

Президенту Республики Беларусь

Мне стало известно, что 30 сентября 2010 года были задержаны 7 социальных активистов имеющие левые и антифашистские убеждения по делу о нападении на Посольство Российской Федерации в Минске.

До сих пор, по истечению 72 часов, им не предъявлены никакие обвинения, а срок заключения продлили еще на 3-е суток. Это указывает на то, что у правоохранительных органов нет никаких доказательств причастности активистов к нападению на посольство – и что показания будут из них выбиваться силой.

У меня нет никакого доверия судебной системе Республики Беларусь, которая как показывает опыт, штампуют решения по спущенным сверху указаниям. Как это было с более чем 300 активистами, арестованными и осужденными на 10-15 суток после выборов в 2006 году.

Считаю арест 7 активистов политически-мотивированным решением по превентивному отстранению их от политической жизни Республики Беларусь в преддверии выборов.

Я возмущен тем, что левые, анархистские убеждения приравниваются к совершению преступления. Я требую немедленного освобождения Антона Лаптенка, Богачека Игоря, Слюсара Сергея, Дедка Николая, Хотиной Валерии, Францкевича Александра, Жингеровского Алексея

Сообщаю, что буду распространять информацию о происходящем всеми возможными способами и доступными средствами, следить за развитием ситуации, а в случае необходимости – участвовать в кампании протеста против преследования активистов в Республике Беларусь.

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