More Detentions Made In Belarus In Latest Crackdown On Postelection Protests

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK – Belarusian security forces have detained at least 10 people in the center of the capital, Minsk, where hundreds of demonstrators had gathered for a march demanding the resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The detentions in Minsk on December 7 come a day after more than 300 anti-government protesters were detained across the country, which has been hit by near-daily protests since Lukashenka claimed he won a sixth term in a presidential vote almost four months ago that the opposition and the West say was rigged.

Several hundred people, including many retirees and medics, came to Minsk’s Yakub Kolas Square on December 7 for a so-called March of Wisdom, but police officers blocked them from holding the event and dispersed the crowd.

Protesters were also prevented from moving along Independence Avenue and dispersed.

A small group of demonstrators managed to regroup at a Christmas tree on Independence Square.

A journalist and a cameraman working for the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel were among those detained during the protest actions.

The opposition says its candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, won the August 9 presidential election and has been demanding Lukashenka's resignation, the release of all political prisoners, and a new election.

Police have violently cracked down on the postelection protests, with more than 27,000 detentions, according to the UN. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.

Meanwhile, much of the opposition leadership has been detained or forced into exile.

On December 6, more than 340 people were detained for participating in rallies across the country and placed in pretrial detention, according to Interior Ministry spokesperson Olga Chemodanova.

Most the detentions occurred in Minsk, where protesters defied a ban on demonstrations by holding numerous smaller marches in residential areas.

It was the third Sunday on which the demonstrations were held under the banner of March of Neighbors, a strategy adopted by the opposition as a way of decentralizing the protests and making it more difficult for police to round up activists.

Protests were also held in Brest, Hrodna, Homel, and other Belarusian cities and towns.

In a separate development on December 7, a Minsk court sentenced a dual Belarusian-Swiss citizen detained during a women's march in September to 2 years and 6 months in prison.

Natalia Hershe pulled off a balaclava from a riot police officer and scratched his face while resisting arrest, the authorities said.

Hershe, who has lived in Switzerland for 12 years and decided to come to Minsk to support the protest movement, was ordered to pay 1,000 Belarusian rubles ($390) to the police officer, the plaintiff in the case.

"I live in a European democracy where freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is unconditionally respected and defined by the constitution, where police officers do not hide their faces under masks and protect their citizens. I hope it will be in a free, free Belarus as well," she said in her last statement to the court.

Swiss Ambassador Claude Altermatt, who attended the trial, said Hershe would continue to receive consular support.

"We regret such a court decision. It doesn't matter to us that Natalia is a citizen of Belarus, we treat her as our citizen," Altermatt said.