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Independent Election Monitors Detained In Belarus During Early Voting


A police officer leaves a voting booth during early voting for the presidential election in the town of Hlybokaye, north of Minsk, on August 4.

MINSK -- Independent observers who've been monitoring early voting in the Belarusian presidential election have been detained across the country after documenting numerous violations of the election law.

An election-monitoring campaign called Honest People said on August 5 that their observers had registered 2,056 violations of the election law in Minsk and other cities on August 4 -- the first day of early voting.

It said the violations included blocking independent observers from polling stations and from monitoring whether voting boxes are properly sealed before being taken away for the vote count.

The Human Rights Defenders for a Fair Election campaign said on August 5 that police detained independent observers at polling stations across the country.

The group said election officials had been calling the police and claiming that the observers "meddled" in the election process.

Detained observers include activists Inna Dabratvor and Natallya Mankouskaya in Minsk, as well as Andrey Kyashanyuk, Halina Mahuchaya, and two other unidentified independent observers in the eastern city of Vitsebsk.

Election observer Yaralsau Nyadasekin was also detained in the town of Smalyavichy near Minsk.

A monitoring group called Right To Vote -- 2020 said its observers were blocked from entering polling stations in Minsk and other cities.

Observers in the eastern city of Mahilyou were also briefly detained on August 4 while trying to monitor early voting.

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center said one of the organizers and leaders of the Honest People campaign, Illya Shapatkouski, was detained on August 4 -- with the authorities claiming he was suspected of being involved in an embezzlement case launched against Belgazprombank.

The Honest People campaign was initiated by former Belgazprombank chief Viktar Babaryka, who along with his son Eduard was arrested in June after he expressed his intention to run for president.

Babaryka was viewed as a potentially strong rival of incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Babaryka was charged with money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion. He rejects the charges as politically motivated.

Lukashenka's 26 years of authoritarian rule looks increasingly vulnerable ahead of the August 9 vote.

But many analysts say he is likely win through a combination of fraud and the repression of an energized opposition.

The Central Election Commission said on August 5 that turnout on the first day of early voting was just under 5 percent of the country's 6.8 million eligible voters.

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