Belarus Review by iSANS – January 11, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – January 11, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

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12.01.2021 iSANS
  1. Leaked tape exposes plotted KGB-led terrorist attacks targeting Belarusians in the EU

Leaked tape exposes plotted KGB-led terrorist attacks targeting Belarusians in the EU

Non-violent protests and civil disobedience campaign continue in Belarus for 155 consecutive days after fraudulent elections of August 9 , 2020. Lukashenka remains backed by the Kremlin as both become more isolated from the West. Although Vladimir Putin publicly urged Lukashenka to engage in dialogue with the rivals, Russia’s leader seeks for ways to further coerce Lukashenka regime to deepen the intergration of Belarus and Russia. Even at the cost of rapidly growing pro-European moods and decreasing support for union with Russia among Belarusian population.

Following armed seizure of power by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his security forces, Belarus faces the greatest wave of repressions in the last four decades of European history. With some 35,000 people detained since the beginning of 2020 presidential campaign, the conveyer of arrests didn’t stop during winter holidays. At least 35 civilians were detained on political grounds during Orthodox Christmas weekend between January 7 and 10. In the last two months the reasons for detention of civilians are becoming more and more absurd. People are being arrested for walking their dogs, making snowmen, giving “a wrong look” to plain-clothed state security officials, and other poorly-grounded reasons.

Since late November 2020 the acting regime is imposing repressive practices and illegal limitations of civil rights in at least 42 specified urban areas of Minsk that local citizens compare to ghettos. In 2021, these illegal practices follow the repressions carried out by the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka in the last 5 months, while kidnappings of protesters, torture and ill-treatment of detained protesters continue, according to human rights activists and lawyers.

With no legal ways to protest in public, the citizens used the insights of their residential balconies and apartment windows to express protest by placing flags there. The state security and civil administration, nevertheless, acknowledge these areas as “public spaces” and detain civilians who place national flags or protest signs in visible areas of their windows, balconies or private houses. During Christmas holidays, civilians and state organizations were informally forced to not use white and red colors for holiday illumination and seasonal decorations in their windows.

Due to cold weather and for security considerations, traditionally popular Sunday rallies in central streets of Minsk transformed into dozens of local marches in most neighborhoods of the capital and numerous provincial towns. Decentralization of protests makes it extremely difficult for state security to control and disperse the protesters who gather and disappear before the security units arrive. However, sometimes the protesters are less lucky.

Five months after the elections, the judicial system of Belarus is used purely for the purpose of political repressions and is completely unable to protect the rights of civil population and avoid new atrocities. Those responsible for crimes against humanity – including torture and politically-motivated murders – remain unpunished. Five months after the first brutal killings of protesters by the state security, 0 (zero) criminal cases were launched against state security and police employees involved in this activity, just like in case of 1000+ reports of torture victims who have no access to justice. These people seek support outside Belarus to prosecute the wrongdoers within the universal jurisdiction as recommended by OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur Professor Benedek in his Report on human rights violations in Belarus (with Lithuania being the leader in supporting such cases within its legal system).

In 2020, over 900 people suffered from politically-motivated criminal cases in Belarus while only slightly 60% of their names are known to human rights activists. As of January 11, 2021, at least 169 individuals remain on the list of political prisoners, however this list is non-exclusive and still counting (UPD: 9 more people were added to the list of political prisoners in the afternoon of January 11). At least 8 journalists are now incarcerated for conducting their professional duties in two non-related politically charged cases. The team of Belarus Press Club is almost entirely in jail now. The crackdown on Belarus media workers in unprecedented in modern history of Europe.

While Lukashenka continues to be betting on the country’s security establishment to remain in power, and supports this privileged cast of citizens with a variety of social benefits (such as exclusive access to loans at state-owned banks after state banks limited loan programs for civilians), there are signs of cracks in the monolith of state security.

Lukashenka recently claimed that Russian Federation urged him to engage in dialogue with his opponents, to which he «agreed». He considers a single 4-hours-long meeting with his rivals at KGB jail a sufficient form of dialogue. Simultaneiously, in the first criminal case on “rioting” charges (Article 293 of the Criminal Code), political prisoner Uladzimir Harokh, was sentenced to 7 years in a penal colony. This shows a perspective that the punishment of political critics of the self-declared leader of Belarus will be severe.

While Lukashenka is unable to regain his popularity, he continues to promote a manipulative project of a so-called constitutional reform. The self-declared leader of Belarus promises to present a draft version of a new Constitution by the end of 2021. He then aims to drag the changes through a “referendum” – a tool he used to consolidate all power in his hands since 1994. Ironically, Lukashenka yet does not expose proposed amendments to the Constitution.

In order to promote a “referendum”, the presidential administration under Lukashenka’s rule is organizing a so-called “National Assembly”.The “National Assembly” is scheduled to meet in Minsk on February 11-12. This non-constitutional body of non-elected delegates (who usually represent “ideologically safe” members of Lukashenka’s support groups) gathers every 5 years since late 1990s. Lukashenka earlier suggested enabling constitutional status of authority and formal power to the “National Assembly” to completely re-establish Soviet system of governance with similarly designed Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The rivals of Lukashenka have already announced mobilization to block the event. In particular, Pavel Latushka, a member of the Coordination Council, suggested adding all 2700 delegates of the so-called “National Assembly” to sanctions lists – which seems a reasonable idea since all of these people will engage in legitimization of an armed seizure of power by Lukashenka and will exercise administrative support to deprive the population of Belarus of basic political rights.

While Belarus remains in the condition of nationwide “legal default”, no amendments to Belarus constitution (and legislation related to political and social institutions) should be recognized by the external community due to illegality of such amendments. Clearly, for any constitutional reform to take place in Belarus, it is important to reestablish the foundations of the rule of law and basic legitimacy of public administration and state institutions.

Firstly – by arranging fair and competitive elections without Lukashenka, and by rearrangement of state governance during a full-fledged transit period. At this particular time, the so-called “government of Belarus” run under Lukashenka is neither legal, nor legitimate. Although foreign countries keep formal relations with Lukashenka’s “MFA of Belarus”, this institution at the moment does not represent the population of Belarus, rather a group of supporters of August 9-13, 2020 armed coup members led by Lukashenka.

Meanwhile, Belarusian crisis is further expanding into international dimension. On January 4, Brussels-based online news outlet EUObserver published what it says is a 2012 audio recording of the then-chairman of the Belarusian KGB Vadzim Zaytsau and two KGB officials. In the record, officers discuss Lukashenka’s orders to arrange terrorist attacks with the use of chemical weapons (poisons) and explosives in Germany and Russia.

The targets of attacks (that did not happen for unknown reasons) were three opponents of Aliaksandr Lukashenka in Germany and a journalist Pavel Sheremet (then-residing in Russia, and later killed during a car bombing in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2016).

«The president [Lukashenka] is waiting for these operations,» says the person recognized by sources as Zaytsau – and adds that Lukashenka has allocated $1.5 million for this mission. These records, that a few sources confirmed authentic, may serve as the evidence of plotted state-run terrorists attacks in the EU and Russia ordered directly by Lukashenka.

A former senior Belarusian Interior Ministry official Ihar Makar who has vouched that the record is authentic, added that he has facts that prove that two suspects of 2011 Minsk metro bombing have no relation to one of the most notorious terrorist attacks in Belarus history which might require the renewal of investigation (since both suspects were executed). Altogether, these facts inevitably leave no way back for Lukashenka-Makei’s «multi-vector diplomacy» in the West (though, not much is left for Lukashenka’s manoeuvres with Russia, too).

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