Belarus's authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed into law legal amendments severely restricting civil rights and the free flow of information amid a crackdown on the country’s pro-democracy movement.
The amendments, signed by Lukashenka on May 24, make it tougher for protest organizers to hold rallies by making it compulsory for all mass events to be authorized by municipal authorities. They also make political parties and public associations responsible if their leaders make public calls for organizing a mass event before the permission to organize the event is granted.
One part of the legislation also states that reporters cannot act as organizers or participants of mass events in the course of their work, and cut off the ability to raise funds to hold events, providing additional ammunition for authorities to use draconian tactics to silence protesters and opposition forces challenging the official results of a presidential election last year that handed Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
In the wake of the election, thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in what has become the largest and most-persistent show of opposition to Lukashenka. More than 33,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown that has left much of the opposition leadership in exile or prison.
The amendments signed into law by Lukashenka also give municipal authorities and law enforcement agencies the right to suspend the operation of infrastructure in areas where mass events are to take place and along the routes their participants use.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies, and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.
Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.
The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have imposed sanctions on him and several senior Belarusian officials in response to the "falsification" of the vote and the postelection crackdown.
The main amendments take force one month after their official publication.