Belarus Review Daily – September 20, 2020

Belarus Review Daily – September 20, 2020

Your daily insight into Belarus crisis (delivered Monday to Friday)

Радыё Свабода
20.09.2020 iSANS
  1. POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY
  2. INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
  3. REPRESSIONS CONTINUE

POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY

On September 18, a man in Smalevichy has immolated himself in front of local police office in what is being reported an act of protest against police brutality. The man was diagnosed with 90% of body surface burns, and was transported to Minsk in critical condition.

President-elect of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya will address the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on September 21.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya annouced the creation of “Taraikouski’s list” of sanctions targeting every person responsible for repressions (named after Aliaksandr Taraikouski who was shot by the police on August 10). The West must introduce an extended list of sanctions that will include all relevant workers of Belarus police, state security and their immediate relatives and will ban this people from entering Western countries. This would become a very strong signal for both Belarus security workers and protesters about the position of the West towards ongoing violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Earlier this week, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, promised security guarantees to Lukashenka if he will resign peacefully. Nevertheless, we assume Lukashenka and other people responsible for politically-motivated crimes under his rule must face international (and national) justice for crimes against humanity, and may only be given security guarantees in the sense that they will be provided security before, during, and after fair trial.

This week, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya had a phone call with Ms. Ivonka Survilla, the Chairwoman of the Rada of the Belarusian People’s Republic (Rada BNR, in exile since 1919). Belarus remains the only post-Soviet country to keep its government in exile after the collapse of the Soviet Union fearing threats to democratic development. Rada BNR remains key political organization of Belarusians abroad. Ms. Ivonka Survilla expressed full support of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on the behalf of diaspora as legitimate representative of Belarusian people.

NEXTA telegram channel published over a 1,000 names of people employed by the Belarus’ Ministry of Interior and some of their their personal data in response to growing repressions. Furthermore, personal data of 7 special forces officials from “Almaz” SWAT group were published later (including home addresses, phone numbers and passport data). Reportedly, “Almaz” is responsible for killings and causing the most severe injuries to peaceful protesters.

While the repressive bodies of Lukashenka’s regime continue violence against peaceful protesters, a group of hackers naming itself “Cyber-partisans of Belarus” (Кибер-партизаны Беларуси) hacks the websites of state institutions and their data centers. They promise to publish personal data of at least 10,000 names if the violence against the protesters will continue. The workers of state police are now very nervous about deanonimization, and prefer to work in balaclavas or masks, wearing civil clothes and without providing their names of regiments when detaining people – though obliged by law.

BYSOL (Belarusian solidarity foundation) launched its @INeedHelpBY_bot to help buy food for workers on a strike and people who lost their jobs following political repressions.

September 20 is an international day of solidarity with Belarus. Solidarity rallies will take place around the world on that day while grand protest marches will take place across Belarus on Sunday afternoon.

Human Rights Watch claims to have recorded proofs of a rape conducted by the Belarusian OMON with the use of a police baton. The officer of Belarusian Minister of Interior reportedly raped a 30 y.o. male with a baton covered in a condom after the detainee refused to provide the password from his mobile phone.

Ms. Natallya Lubneuskaya, a journalist of Belarus’ major media, Nasha Niva, was shot in her leg by police regiment ‘Almaz’ at a close range on August 10. This week, she left a hospital. 38 days after the incident, she was never contacted by the Ministry of Interior to receive any apologies. No criminal case was started against the shooter. although there are at least two video records of intentional shooting of a journalist at a close range.

Belarusian economy is facing a major drop. Since January 2020 until September 2020, the largest decrease was recorded in mining (-36,9%), oil refining (-27,2%), and production of textiles (-14,4%). MTZ (Minsk tractor works) lost up to 23% of planned production in August 2020.

As of August 1, the debts of large and medium enterprises of Belarus grew to a record BYN 148,4 billion (US $70+ bln). Meanwhile, annual GDP of Belarus (as was planned on January 1, 2020) was estimated at the level of BYN 143,5 billion. Considering dramatic decline of economy that started due to COVID19 pandemic and was followed by even greater fall in August, Lukashenka’s regime may announce default on its foreign debt in the upcoming months unless it will be backed up by Russia’s financial sources. Hence, Russian / Kremlin-related capital must not be allowed to Belarus under the threat of global sanctions against Russia on the grounds of illegal interference into internal affairs of Belarus.

In August 2020, mining delivery at Belaruskali dropped by 17% from planned following the strike. The production of fertilizers in Belaruskali’s 1st Mining Administration dropped by 18% from what was planned by the company’s management. However, popular strike in Belaruskali ended following repressions against its workers (around10 days after the election).

Belarusians withdraw up to US $30 million in foreign currency every day fast approaching a record-breaking US $ 900 million in monthly withdrawals.

In August 2020, Belarus showed a striking 350% decrease in national web domain registrations. IT expert Siarhei Pavalishau (CEO of hoster.by, the largest hosting company in Belarus), expects 20% fall in hosting market by 2021, and assumes the market will drop down to 2015 condition naming current situation in Belarus a ‘catastrophe’.

Amid devastating situation in national economy, the acting authorities of Belarus opened a $750,000 worth flag post in Homiel. 4,500 locals earlier signed a petition against this project. The state-run initiative was arranged in an extremely undercover fashion. The locals were not allowed to see the project’s documentation whatsoever. Although the people were promised the flag mast will not be built using state budget money, it was reportedly built with the use of public funds.

Dozens of thousands gather into so-called “community chats” (чаты районов) to self-organize locally and meet other protesters from their areas. These chats are now of the main elements of decentralization of protests and they cause paranoidal activity of both the state security and ideological ‘vertical’ that can not oppose hundreds of points of expanding grassroots activity and local solidarity.

This month, four PandaDoc employees were “taken hostage” in Belarus within a politically-motivated criminal case, according to the US-based company’s owner Mikita Mikado. He relates repressions to his project that provided support to state employees who lost their jobs following criticism of the regime and police violence. After the company’s accounts were arrested, Mikita announced, he may not proceed with his social project. However, a CEO of another IT business, DeepDee, Yaraslau Likhacheuski expressed his solidarity with PandaDoc and Mikita Mikado and announced he will support the project for fired officials instead of Mr. Mikado.

After two photographers, Uladz Hrydzin and Aliaksandr Vasiukovich, were arrested, major Belarusian online media refrained from using any photos in their front pages for 24 hours to attract more attention to repressions against media workers. The photographers were arrested at the bar on no legit grounds, and were sentenced to 11 days in jail for allegedly participating in an illegal mass gathering.

Lukashenka threatens to launch Belarusian Nuclear Powers Station on October 7, 2020. In times of severe political crisis and unstable political situation, this move threatens the ecological well-being of all CEE region and the Nordic countries. Foreign governments and relevant nuclear control agencies must clearly let Lukashenka know that launching a nuclear power station in given circumstances is not possible, and stop him from launching this project amid the greatest political turmoil Belarus witnesses in the last 30 years..

Lukashenka publicly claimed that during his last meeting with Vladimir Putin he asked to provide new types of weapons for Belarusian army. Russian president’s press office later disproved such facts. In more and more cases, Lukashenka makes statements that have no correlation with the objective reality.

Belarus representative to the UN denies the existence of political prisoners in Belarus. This practice has been used by diplomatic representatives of Lukashenka’s regime for over 20 years. The basic attitude for any communication with all representatives of state bodies loyal to Lukashenka is that the representatives of Lukashenka can not be trusted – and they will not follow any binding agreements even if they sign and ratify them.

Acting Belarusian MFA labelled UNHRC’s resolution on human rights situation ‘bullying’. Although Lukashenka’s regime failed to provide justice to the victims of police brutality and did not investigate rigged elections, the MFA is now intentionally playing a card of a victim. Belarusian MFA claims the EU and international organizations weaken Belarusian sovereignty, however it was exactly Lukashenka who invited foreign (Russian) law enforcement, organized rigged elections, brought political, administrative, military and media advisers to Minsk, and now pushes the country towards the civil conflict by continuing unlimited violence against peaceful protesters and dissidents. Acting Belarusian MFA calls reports on post-election violence “fake news” and remains in absolute denial of the objective reality and facts, thus going beyond any moral standards.

The representatives of Belarus and Russia tried to halt the address of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya during UNHRC meeting. They knocked at their microphones in an effort to sabotage her speech in violation of international diplomatic etiquette, and acted in a very improper way.

On Thursday, Lukashenka gathered a group of 300 representatives of loyal nomenclature in what looked a lot like Soviet Central Committee plenum. Lukashenka seems to have a need to talk to loyal people on a daily basis to make sure that they still support him, and that he will cover them if they remain loyal. During this event, the notorious Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yermoshina has appeared in public for the first time in many weeks.

On September 18, Cyprus blocked EU sanctions against Belarus for the second time in the last two weeks. Although Cyprus claims to do so with an intention to initiate sanctions against Turkey in a non-related conflict, it is likely that Cyprus is afraid of losing Belarusian and Russian offshore money in its jurisdiction and is under great influence of the Kremlin. Further failure or delay to agree on sanctions will cause severe damages to EU credibility and international image.

Lukashenka’s 15 y.o. illegitimate son Mikalai (reportedly born from Lukashenka’s lover who performed the functions of his personal therapist) canceled his application to Belarusian State University’s lyceum. First president’s granddaughters Anastasiya and Darya Lukashenka cancelled their applications, too. Reportedly, Mikalai Lukashenka will be sent to Moscow to study in elite high school under a pseudonym.

Lukashenka again threatened to “end with the protests”. None of his previous efforts to halt the protesters proved effective, and caused more people in the streets.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY

On September 17, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the UK, and the USA launched the OSCE’s ‘Moscow Mechanism’ to establish an independent expert mission to investigate the crimes of Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus. The mechanism is initiated to immediately start investigation into serious threats to the fulfillment of human rights commitments by acting Belarus authorities.

UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the situation with human rights in Belarus. The resolution (A/HRC/45/L.1) was adopted by a vote of 23 in favour, 2 against and 22 abstentions. UNHRC called upon the Belarusian authorities to enter into a dialogue with the political opposition including the Coordination Council.

George Kent, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, stated that the United States and the EU will announce new package of sanctions against Belarus the upcoming week.

The European Parliament acknowledges the Coordination Council a temporary representative body of the people of Belarus. The European Parliament voted (574 in favor to 37 against) to not recognize Aliaksandr Lukashenka as Belarus president (upon the end of his current term in early November), and supported a wide package of sanctions and measures against Lukashenka’s regime. European Parliament also recommends to cancel 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus and halt funding of any Belarus state-controlled institutions.

The Nordic Council supported new sanctions against Belarus.

The heads of Minsk-based missions of EU countries, called on the ‘authorities’ in Belarus to act in line with its international obligations and to release all political prisoners. The EU Ambassadors promised to bring a copy of the list of all political prisoners in Belarus to every meeting with Belarusian officials from September 19 on. There are now at least 70 people who were recognized as political prisoners by human rights groups.

Poland initiated the development of three plans to help Belarus, according to Poland’s Deputy FM Martin Pszydach. The first plan is focused on giving medical help and rehabilitation care in Poland to the victims of repressions. A special academic program will support up to 1,000 Belarusian students who may be expelled on political grounds. The second plan is focused on economic support for Belarusian businesses, specifically the IT sector. The third plan (the so-called ‘Marshall Plan for Belarus’) is a concrete plan to be developed in partnership with EU countries to help Belarus after the free elections. Polish Prime Minster Mateusz Morawiecki says Poland wants the EU to offer Belarus financial assistance of at least EUR 1 billion as part of a Marshall Plan-type effort that will be discussed at the next EU summit on September 24-25.

The president of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová called Sviatlana Alexievich (the member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council) to express her solidarity and support to Belarus people in their fight for fair elections.

Since September 21, Belarusian nationals will receive Lithuania’s national visa within simplified procedure.

The presidents of Lithuania and Poland discussed Lukashenka’s statement on the closure of Belarusian borderswith Poalnd, Lithuania and Ukraine. The President of Lithuania reminded that Lukashenka should remember the borders may be shut down from the other side, too. Poland considers setting up additional national sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime. Both Lithuania and Poland will speed up the EU to introduce wider sanctions against those responsible for rigged elections and violence against peaceful protesters, and will call up for consolidation of the EU on the matter of Belarus.

Despite Lukashenka’s threats, all borders generally operate on a regular basis. Nevertheless, Belarusian customs now either prohibit entry with any goods, or require to declare every item brought from abroad – even such as food for personal use. The State Border Committee clarified Lukashenka’s words about closing the borders. They said he meant ‘strengthening of border security’. Lukashenka’s behavior becomes a lot more dangerous and unpredictable since the public statements he makes are becoming more and more eccentric and detached from the reality.

Svein Tore Holsether, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Yara, the largest partner of Belaruskali in Norway, met with leaders of Belaruskali strike committee (who were recently released from prison) during his visit to Belarus. Mr. Holsether wondered if the workers would prefer for Yara to end all operations with state-owned companies in Belarus. The workers suggested Yara to become an intermediary between the workers and Belaruskali executives. Yara was widely criticized in Norway for business with Belaruskali where at least two workers were fired on political grounds, 11 workers on strike were detained, 4 left the country following political pursue, and 25 are not allowed to enter their work because of their political views. Raman Bandaravets, a member of strike committee at Belaruskali, was detained on Thursday.

REPRESSIONS CONTINUE

Unidentified men in balaclavas, civil clothes and olive uniforms with no identification marks continue to harrass the civilians and kidnap protesters – along with Belarusian police and OMON.

At least 61 member of opposition candidates’ offices were detained in the last 7 weeks. 13 more were forced to leave Belarus following the unprecedented repressions.

At least 365 people (mostly women – the youngest is 16 y.o., the oldest is 73) were detained on Saturday during peaceful female march against police violence and in support of Lukashenka’s resignation. At least two women were removed from the scene in ambulance cars after they were attacked by OMON and unknown people in civil clothes and olive uniforms. One of the women detained on Saturday is Ms. Aliaksandra Hushcha, a person with numerous disabilities who lost her limbs in fire at the age of 11 months. The total number of post-election detentions is now between 10,000 and 20,000. Detentions in Minsk were carried out under commandment of Dzmitry Balaba, the head of OMON.

The General-Prosecutors Office threatens to remove children from families of protesters. 140 families were already issued official notifications that the kids may be forcibly removed to orphanages if the parents will continue to participate in any form of protests with their children. This practice is absolutely illegal and cites stalinist and bolshevik ‘purges’ and repressions in 1917-1953.

On September 17, a 6-year old son of activists Alena Lazarchyk and Siarhei Matskoits (European Belarus movement) was illegally removed from the kindergarten and sent to the Frunzenski district orphanage. Same day, Alena was detained on no grounds. On Saturday, September 19, hundreds of people arrived at the orphanage to protest against the detention of the minor and support the child’s family. The child was returned into a family.

The students at Belarusian universities are being forced to sign an illegal document that obliges them to not participate in any protest activity and to not spread information about what is happening on campuses. This is severe violation of basic human rights related to political participation conducted by academic leadership of Belarusian universities.

Ihar and Dzmitry Anishchanka who own the office building where Viktar Babaryka’s team rented properties, became subjects to politically motivated criminal case. They are charged with alleged non-payment of taxes. Following August 9, a dozens of businesses that supported opposition candidates or provided any services for them in execution of their professional capacities, are facing political repressions and criminal charges.

A court in Homiel found a deaf person not guilty of shouting political statements. Although police witnesses claimed that person was shouting political chants out loud, the court did not punish them for lies under the oath. Previously, at least one deaf person was found guilty for shouting out protest chants and one single-handed person was found guilty of clapping hands during ‘silent protests’ that took place a few years ago.

The acting Ministry of Interior sends SMS messages via GSM operators urging the citizens to let the ministry know about all cases of using ‘the unregistered symbols’. The MoI names these messages ‘social advertising’.

The problem is that almost any visual image can be regarded as ‘unregistered symbol’, however state security and police only react to Belarusian national white-red-white flags and ‘Pahonia’ coat of arms that are being used by the protesters. In many cases the representative of the regime label the national symbols as ‘prohibited symbology’ although there has never been any ban on the use of white-red-white flag, and ‘Pahonia’ coat of arms is officially recognized as ‘national historic emblem of Belarus’ by the Ministry of Culture.

Aliaksandr Lukomski who was detained last weekend during a protest in Homiel, remains on a hunger strike in prison since September 13.

Acting foreign minister of Belarus Uladzimir Makei threatened to make steps against foreign press located in Belarus if the EU will launch sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime.

Marfa Rabkova, the coordinator of ‘Viasna’ human rights volunteer service, was detained. She is now subject to criminal charges – ‘training or other forms of preparation of people for mass riots or financing of such activities’. Marfa’s work was of purely peaceful character – she was involved exclusively into human rights work.

Maksim Znak, a lawyer and a member of the Board of the Coordination Council, is subject to criminal case for ‘calls to seize power’. Mr. Znak went on a hunger strike in response to politically-motivated prosecution.

CEO of MakeML Aliaksei Karatkou wasn’t allowed out of detention center after he spent 8 days in jail for participating in an allegedly ‘illegal’ protest march. Mr. Karatkou may be a subject to a yet unidentified criminal case.

Lukashenka ordered to audit and re-register all political parties after ten parties (out of 15) signed the petition against police violence and in support of fair elections. This will likely lead to a closure of a few opposition parties. Nevertheless, in the last 20 years the political life in Belarus is almost non-existent since the opposition parties are either blocked from any real political influence, or play the role of ‘folding screen’ aiming to show the existence of political pluralism in authoritarian political system.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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