Two years after Belarus’ rigged election, US can do more to expose Alexander Lukashenko’s abuses

By Polina Sadovskaya

The fraudulent election of Alexander Lukashenka as President of Belarus on August 9, 2020 came as no surprise to anyone. Everyone expected him to “win”, but very few wanted him to. Today, it is more important than ever that the United States continue to speak out against the serious human rights violations committed by Lukashenko.

Belarusian organizations and activists demanded free and fair elections. Crowds in Minsk and other Belarusian cities celebrated pro-democracy candidates, including Svitlana Tikhanouskaya, who took over her husband’s campaign after his arrest, but the run-up to the election was characterized by mass protests, protests detentions and arrests, including that of well-known political writer Ihar Losik and opposition presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka.

After announcing that Lukashenka had been re-elected with an alleged 80% majority, the regime responded to protesters with a nationwide news blackout and then violence.

These events, now almost two years ago, have led to a mass exile of pro-democracy activists, mainly to Lithuania and Poland. A more intense crackdown against those still in Belarus continues. Democracy and human rights advocates around the world have tried tirelessly to support organizations and individuals whose safety in Belarus is at risk. A year ago, international human rights organizations launched a joint appeal to demand the release of political prisoners captured in raids against publications and activist groups. Concerted efforts have been made to organize panels and discussions on human rights in Belarus at the meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly in order to keep Belarus on the global agenda. PEN America held readings in solidarity with the people of Belarus.

Even more impressive are the efforts in Belarus to continue supporting journalists, activists and writers. Even after its liquidation, PEN Belarus continued to work in exile on cultural and human rights research. The Belarusian Society of Journalists (BAJ) was recently awarded the UNESCO Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, and the human rights center Viasna has published constant updates and statistics on political imprisonment in Belarus .

Lukashenka and his regime’s collaboration with Putin over the use of the Belarusian border for the initial invasion of Ukraine severely undermined much of the global support for Belarus. More than ever, it is crucial to distinguish those residing in Belarus from the cruel actions of the Putin-backed Lukashenka regime; like Ukrainians waging a war against Russia, Belarusians have been engaged in an anti-Russian ideological battle since Lukashenko came to power. As Amy Mackinnon so aptly described in a recent Foreign Police report, the outcome of the war in Ukraine will also have an impact on the future of democracy and human rights in Belarus.

While that future remains uncertain, it is more important than ever that the United States continue to use its voice and leadership to speak out against Lukashenka’s abuses and show support for those fighting the dictatorship at home and abroad. outside Belarus. In the winter of 2021, six months after falsified election results sent Belarusian civil society into disarray, PEN America called on members of Congress to speak out in support of the protesters and declare their commitment to the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights. . Months later, a congressional resolution offered congratulations and hope to the people of Belarus as they demanded a democratic future.

Biden administration must act on resolution; what is needed now is a consolidated effort to counter Belarusian tactics that involve internet censorship, prolonged detention in terrible conditions and intensive torture. The US government must continue to condemn these tactics and publicly call for the release of the 1,262 political prisoners in Belarus, including 98 cultural figures (as of August 8); A total of 114 cultural personalities are unjustly detained.

As the Belarusian border is used for war and the world begins to ignore Belarusian civil society due to the government’s heinous involvement in the invasion of Ukraine, the United States can play an important role in strengthening the support for human rights and democracy in Europe, a strategically important region for the United States. Whether it’s pushing to hold the Lukashenko administration to account or promoting civil society organizations that offer aid to targeted and suppressed individuals in Belarusian society, now is the time to make that change.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and around the world. We defend the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the freedoms that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057

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