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UN Urges End To 'Crackdown' On Civil Society In Belarus Ahead Of Presidential Vote

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United Nations experts are urging the Belarusian government to abandon its “policy of arbitrary arrests, violence, and intimidation” against political activists, rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers ahead of a presidential election on August 9.

In a statement on July 1, the independent experts said that at least 200 representatives of civil society have been arrested during demonstrations across Belarus since June 18.

The peaceful rallies aimed at showing solidarity with “nearly 500 other activists detained since May while exercising their right to give and gather signatures” for nominating candidates for the upcoming vote, the statement said.

The same day, the media-freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement urging Minsk to release all the journalists currently being held and to “allow the press to cover the country’s upcoming elections without fear of prosecution.” At least six bloggers have been detained since June 15, the group said.

In their statement, the UN experts said they “strongly condemn the government’s continuous policy of mass arrests of members of the civil society who are peacefully exercising their fundamental rights,” including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.

In particular, they urged the Belarusian authorities to “immediately stop cracking down” on peaceful protesters, as well as journalists covering the rallies.

“We are concerned that the approach of the government towards peaceful protesters and journalists trying to perform their work is becoming more and more violent and abusive,” the statement said.

The latest protests followed the arrest on June 18 of Viktar Babaryka, a potential opponent of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the presidential election who is under investigation for alleged financial crimes.

It was reported to the UN experts that “unidentified men in plainclothes began to arbitrarily arrest journalists and passersby in several towns of Belarus, while anti-riot police used excessive force against peaceful protesters.”

Many of those detained were “beaten, intimidated, ill-treated and either received fines or sentences of up to 15 days of administrative detention on charges of violating the procedure for holding mass events,” the statement read.

The UN experts include Anais Marin, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, special rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression; and Diego Garcia-Sayan, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

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