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Belarusian Activists Detained After Hundreds Rally Against 'Parasite' Tax

  • RFE/RL's Belarus Service

People take part in a protest rally in Maladzyechna on March 10.

MINSK -- More than 10 people were detained after several hundred people rallied in a northwestern Belarusian city, demanding cancellation of a controversial tax on jobless people.

Police did not intervene as up to 1,000 demonstrators marched in the March 10 rally in Maladzyechna, where protesters chanted "Long Live Belarus!" and "Power to People!"

But following the event, men presumed to be security officers used force to detain several activists, including opposition politicians Anatol Lyabedzka, Yuras Hubarevich, Volha Kavalkova, and Vital Rymasheuski.

Also detained was journalist Syarhey Karalevich of the independent Belarusian news agency BelaPAN.

The protests were the latest in series to rattle the authoritarian government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has said the law was necessary to combat what he has called "social parasitism."

WATCH: Three Belarusian Activists Live-Stream Their Own Detentions (in Russian)

The Viasna human rights organization said in a statement that at least two other opposition politicians were detained as well, and there were reports that several other local activists were also taken into custody.

It was not immediately clear what charges the detainees were facing.

Opposition parliamentarian Hanna Kanapatskaya later traveled to the Maladzyechna police station to demand their release.

Kanapatskaya said in an interview at the station that she had been unable to obtain any information about the detentions from police.

She said she had filed a complaint with police over what she called the criminal "abduction" of Lyabedzka, Rymasheuski, and Kavalkova by "unidentified persons" based on videos posted on social media.

The rally took place a day after Lukashenka suspended implementation of the tax for one year, saying it will be "corrected" and carried out in 2018.

The law, which has sparked protests across the nation of 10 million, imposes a special tax on Belarusians who work less than half of a calendar year and do not register at the country's labor bureaus.

The law exempts registered job-seekers, homemakers, subsistence farmers, and Belarusians working in Russia.

Activists told RFE/RL that similar rallies are scheduled for March 11 and March 12 in four cities: Pinsk, Babruysk, Vorsha, and Rahachou.

Activists in Minsk told RFE/RL that city authorities allowed them to stage a demonstration as well.

At the same time that he announced a suspension on the tax, Lukashenka also instructed his interior minister to ensure that “perfect order” is established in the country, BelaPAN reported.

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