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EU Says Belarus Must Release Detained Protesters

Protests against the tax on "social parasites" in the western city of Baranavichy.
Protests against the tax on "social parasites" in the western city of Baranavichy.

The European Union says Belarus must immediately release protesters detained in a series of recent demonstrations against a tax on the unemployed.

The EU said on March 17 that the arrests of demonstrators protesting the levy, which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka calls a tax on "social parasites," highlights "a clear need for a broader democratization process in the country."

"Freedom of association and of assembly needs to be ensured," a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign affairs office said in a statement. "Recently detained peaceful protesters, including journalists covering the events, must be immediately released."

Authorities have detained more than 150 people across Belarus since March 1, dozens of whom have been handed jail sentences of up to 15 days.

Among those detained was RFE/RL's Belarus Service correspondent Halina Abakunchyk who was kept in police detention overnight after being arrested while live-streaming the protest in the city of Vorsha, northeast of the capital, Minsk.

A local court found her guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned rally, and released her on March 13 with the equivalent of a $300 fine.

Protests in the capital, Minsk, and other Belarusian cities continued despite Lukashenka's March 9 announcement that collection of the tax would be suspended until 2018.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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