Belarusians continue to live under severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and other rights after nearly a quarter-century under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, UN special rapporteur Miklos Haraszti has told RFE/RL.
Haraszti, who is expected to present his latest report in human rights in Belarus in Geneva on June 25, decried what he said was a lack of progress on freedom of the media, speech, and assembly in the former Soviet republic.
Rights groups and Western governments have accused the administration of Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, of systemically quashing independent media, political opposition, and civil society groups.
The EU eased sanctions against Belarus in 2016 after the release of several people considered political prisoners, but has criticized the government for a violent clampdown on demonstrators protesting an unemployment tax in March 2017.
Haraszti, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, said that Lukashenka's government had tightened restrictive measures in order "not to allow the genie out of the bottle."
The Belarusian authorities have developed a "very peculiar" way of regulating social activity, he said, describing legislation that "applies to all aspects of public life, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and the media, and even the right to life."
"The legislation gives the government the right to decide freely whether to allow any public action or not," Haraszti said.
He said that Belarusians were in a "Kafkaesque" predicament: For almost any public event, they have to ask the authorities for permission that is "almost impossible to obtain."
If permission is not obtained, he said, an event or gathering is considered illegal and the authorities impose whatever punishment they wish on participants, including prison terms.
Haraszti also said that Belarus was the only country in Europe that did not have private media outlets broadcasting nationwide, and criticized recent amendments to media legislation that increase state control over the Internet.
In the report he was to deliver to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Haraszti called for continued international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Belarus, as "no tangible progress on systemic issues has been achieved."
The special rapporteur also deemed it "vital" for the situation of civil society activists in the country to continue to provide international support for them
Among other things, Haraszti recommended that the Belarusian government release all political prisoners, stop imprisoning individuals who express dissenting views, allow the existence of nationwide independent media, end the harassment of journalists, and repeal an article of the Criminal Code curtailing the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.