2020 Belarusian protests
Part of the Belarusian democracy movement and
the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election
2020 Belarusian protests — Minsk, 16 August p0024.jpg
Protests on 16 August 2020 in Minsk
Date24 May 2020[1] – present
(4 months)
Location
Caused by
Goals
Methods
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Number
16 August:
23 August:[dubious ]
16 August:
  • Minsk: ~5,000–65,000[48]
Total:
  • ~100,000 police and soldiers[57]
Casualties and losses
200+ injured[58]
4+ dead[59][60][61]
12,000 arrested[62][61][63][64]
50 missing[65]
103 injured[66][63]
At least a few journalists wounded[67]

The 2020 Belarusian protests are a series of ongoing political demonstrations and protests against the Belarusian government and President Alexander Lukashenko.[71][72] The demonstrations, which are part of the Belarusian democracy movement, began in the lead-up to and during the 2020 presidential election, in which Lukashenko sought a sixth term in office.[59][72] In response, a number of relatively small pro-Lukashenko demonstrations were held.[48]

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition candidate in the election who claims she received 60–70% of the votes, announced the creation of the Coordination Council, with membership applications open to all Belarusians who agreed that the official election had been falsified.[5][73]

The protests have faced violent persecution by the authorities. A statement by the United Nations Human Rights Office on 1 September cited more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as reports of sexual abuse and rape.[74]

The 2020 protests are the largest series of anti-government demonstrations in Belarus since Alexander Lukashenko became President of the country in 1994.

Background

Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of state of Belarus since 1994, and did not have a serious challenger in the previous five elections, resulting in his being called "Europe's last dictator."[75] Under his authoritarian rule,[76] the government has frequently repressed the opposition.[75][76]

Lukashenko had faced greater public opposition amid his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Lukashenko has denied as a serious threat.[77][75] Of the five elections won by Lukashenko, only the first in 1994 was credibly deemed free and fair by international monitors.[78]

During the 2020 presidential campaign, presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya stated that the people of Belarus had to find a way to protect their vote.[citation needed] According to an interview with Franak Viačorka, son of opposition leader Vincuk Viačorka, the protests against Lukashenko have been "leaderless".[79]

Before the election

The nickname "cockroach" for Lukashenko was adopted from Korney Chukovsky's 1921 children's poem Tarakanishche (The Monster Cockroach).

The protests, nicknamed the Slipper Revolution[80][81] and the Anti-Cockroach Revolution,[71] were initiated by businessman and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky when he made a reference to the children's poem The Monster Cockroach (Russian: Тараканище, romanizedTarakanishche) by Korney Chukovsky.

The original story, published in 1923,[82] concerns a dictatorial yet fragile insect and his brief, chaotic reign of terror over all the other animals. It has been compared to The Emperor's New Clothes.[83][84] In his reference, Tikhanovsky compared Lukashenko to the cockroach in the story. In the original poem, the cockroach is eventually eaten by a sparrow; Tikhanovsky refers to a slipper signifying stamping on the cockroach.[85]

Tikhanovsky traveled across Belarus and streamed interviews with random people on his YouTube channel Country for life (Russian: Страна для жизни, romanizedStrana dlya zhizni). Most of his respondents expressed disagreement with Lukashenko and the current government.[86]

Tikhanovsky was detained in late May 2020 by Belarusian authorities, and was formally accused of being a foreign agent.[87] In June 2020, street protests against Lukashenko took place.[77] Several opposition candidates were registered for the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, but many of them were arrested.[87]

During an interview, Lukashenko claimed that the opposition protests were a part of a plot[88] orchestrated by foreigners, who he suggested might be Americans, NATO members, Russians, or even Ukrainians.[75] On 19 June, Lukashenko announced that he had "foiled a coup attempt", resulting in the arrest of main opposition rival Viktar Babaryka.[89] According to CNN, Babaryka stated that the charges of bribery and corruption were falsified and the arrest was politically motivated to stop him from winning the presidential election.[90]

As soon as Babaryka was detained by authorities, people started walking in the streets to demonstrate their disagreement. Opposition activists, protesters, journalists, and bloggers have also been arrested as part of the crackdown.[91] The human rights group Viasna estimated that about 1,300 people had been detained for protesting between early May and early August.[92]

Tikhanovsky's wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya registered as a candidate in the election after the arrest of Babaryka.[93] Lukashenko insisted the country was not ready for a woman to become president. Unregistered candidate Valeriy Tsepkalo's wife Veronika Tsepkalo announced that she and Maria Kolesnikova, head of Babaryka's presidential campaign staff, would join Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's campaign and provide support.[87]

The protests have led to questions of how long the conflict may last for, and whether it will escalate into violence,[94] possibly evolving into a full revolution, akin to how the Euromaidan protests turned into a revolution in Ukraine in 2014.[95] The German Marshall Fund, a US think tank, noted that the protests were more widespread, and more brutally repressed, than previous protests in Belarus.[96]

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)[97] reported that it would not be monitoring the 2020 election as it had not been invited to do so.[98] This was the first time since 2001 the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not monitor elections in Belarus.[99] The OSCE has not recognized any elections in Belarus as free and fair since 1995,[98] and the government has obstructed past OSCE election-monitoring missions in the country.[99]

Presidential campaign

Opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya in Minsk on 30 July

On 29 July 33 alleged mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, were arrested in a sanatorium near Minsk.[92] Lukashenko accused Russia of lying about the arrested "mercenaries", saying "So far there is no open warfare, no shooting, the trigger has not yet been pulled, but an attempt to organize a massacre in the centre of Minsk is already obvious."[100] Belarusian authorities claimed that Tikhanovsky was working with Russians to destabilize Belarus.[100] All but one of the mercenaries, who is a Belarusian national and remains in custody, were deported to Russia on 14 August despite a request from Ukraine for their extradition.[101]

On 30 July, a permitted rally of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya took place in the Friendship of Peoples Park in Minsk. According to human rights activists, 63,000–70,000 people gathered,[102][103] but a statement from the Belarusian Interior Ministry alleged that only 18,250 people had been recorded passing through the metal-detecting checkpoints set up at the event.[104]

On 6 August, an estimated 5,000 peaceful protesters took to the streets in Minsk, waving white ribbons, calling for free and fair elections.[105]

Election day

The original Belarusian white-red-white flag, official from 1991 to 1995, became the most well-known symbol of protest.
External video
Anthem using by protestors Pahonia
People singing "Pahonia" at the mall
Protests during election night

On 9 August 2020, all roads and entry points to Minsk were blocked by the police and army early in the morning.[106][107]

In the middle of the day, the Internet in Belarus was partially blocked. Government officials claimed that the reason was a heavy denial-of-service attack originating from outside Belarus. On the other hand, independent IT specialists claimed that the Belarusian state Internet monopoly Beltelecom and affiliated state agencies deliberately used deep packet inspection (DPI) technology or traffic shaping, and that issues with the filtering equipment used may have been the cause.[108] Telegram was the only working instant messaging application.[109][110]

In the evening of the election day immediately after the close of polling stations, the Belarusian government-sponsored TV aired exit poll results showing a supposed landslide in which Lukashenko got 80.23% of the votes, while Tsikhanouskaya received only 9.9%.[106] The landslide was so great that even the pro-government part of the Belarusian population found that it was unlikely to be true.[111] This caused an immediate reaction by supporters of Tsikhanouskaya to head to the streets in all major cities in Belarus, such as Brest, Minsk, Vitebsk, Grodno, Mazyr, Pinsk, Gomel, and Babruysk. People were doing so to express their dissatisfaction and were calling for a fair count of votes.[111] This started as peaceful protests in the middle of the night, but in Minsk, the situation turned into a fight between some people and the authorities. People started building barricades to block the traffic on the streets.[112] It was hard to estimate the number of protesters in Minsk because the protesters were not concentrated in a single spot.[113]

At night, after breaking up big crowds, police officers chased smaller groups of protesters through downtown Minsk for several hours. A fight against security forces and police continued in all major cities in Belarus. Law enforcement officers used police batons, rubber bullets (fired from shotguns), grenades with lead balls, water cannons, tear gas, and flashbangs. They used it to suppress the protests as people were chased in the suburbs all night.[114][115] In Brest, protesters gradually dispersed, leaving a crowd of 200–300 from an estimated previous total of 5,000.[113] That night in Minsk, security forces were dropping grenades near people, and some people received critical injuries.[113]

It was one of the biggest protests since Belarus' independence. Security forces arrested around 3,000 people overnight.[116] Some of the protesters were seriously injured, with at least 50 protesters being taken to the hospital, some of them were in critical condition and one of the protesters died.[117]

Some people were reported to be arrested while waiting for election results near their polling stations. In Minsk, a 73-year-old man with a daughter and grandchildren were arrested with nearly 20 other people who gathered near the 86th school after the closure of the polling station. It was reported that they were sentenced to 10 and 25 days in jail.[118] In Baranavichy, two Roman Catholic priests were arrested among others: they were waiting for the results near the polling station.[119]

Post-election

First week (9–15 August)

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, in a summary of events during protests in the night of 11–12 August, noted that in several cities, "there were facts of open confrontation with the law enforcement agencies".[citation needed] In Brest, they also reported "a group of aggressively minded citizens with fittings in their hands attacked police officers." The ministry also stated that "five deliberate raids with the use of cars" were committed to law enforcement officers during the day. In Zhodzina, Minsk Region, after such a collision, a soldier was hospitalized with multiple injuries.[120]

Protesters in Minsk on 14 August

As the protests swept across Belarus following the election results, the primary opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya published a video saying that she left Belarus for Lithuania.[121] She was presumed to have been coerced to leave while also submitting a complaint to the CEC (Central Election Commission of Belarus).[121] She was detained by CEC for seven hours.[58]

In the evening, the protests continued in all major cities of Belarus, including Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Baranavichy, Maladzyechna, Navahrudak, Novopolotsk, Zhodzina.[122] In Minsk, protesters changed their tactics, switching positions from one part of the city to another, similar to the "be water" tactics used in the 2019–20 protesters in Hong Kong.[123] Protesters barricaded the area around the Riga Market in the centre of Minsk. Government forces responded by tear-gassing the protesters and using flashbangs.[124] Authorities threw flashbangs and fired rubber bullets at the protesters at close range. A protester, Alexander Taraikovsky, died near Pushkinskaya metro station.

The flashbangs purportedly originated in the Czech Republic, which had imposed an embargo on selling flashbangs to Belarus after the suppression of the 2010 elections.[125]

One of the female lines of solidarity and protest in Minsk (13 August)
Protesters near a church in Minsk (12 August)

The government's riot police (AMAP/OMON), internal troops, and anti-terrorist "Almaz" elite special force participated in the suppression of the protests in Minsk. Water cannons were also used near the Riga Market, and rubber bullets were widely used everywhere. Mass protests were reported. It was reported that AMAP/OMON squads seized some ambulances or used visually similar vans to deceive the protesters into allowing them through the barricades.[126][127]

Five days later, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote that the beatings and arrests that occurred on 10 August 2020, were ordered by the retired commander of Military Unit 3214 of the Internal Troops of Belarus, Dmitri Pavlichenko. He had been previously arrested for serious crimes.[128]

On 11 August, the protests resumed in Minsk and other major cities. Rubber bullets and flashbangs were widely used.[129] The Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that it used live ammunition against protesters in Brest.[58] One death was reported, as one man, Gennady Shutov, in critical condition and with severe brain damage as of 14 August,[130][131] succumbed to his injuries on 19 August in Minsk.

On 11 August 2020 Molotov cocktails began to be thrown at security officials in Minsk. Activists built barricades and began to burn tires near the shopping centre "Riga". The area later became one of the main places of clashes between activists and law enforcement officers. Telegram channel NEXTA, used by the opposition, published messages alleging violence by law enforcement officers, which were not always accompanied by video or photo confirmation. Telegram published aggressive vocabulary against law enforcement, such as "punishers" and "fascists".[132] Telegram was one of the few accessible resources during a concurrent internet blackout and VPN usage was ubiquitous, with Psiphon usage skyrocketing.[133]

In Gomel, a 25-year-old man died on 12 August after waiting in a security forces detainee van for many hours in hot weather. He had a heart condition and wasn't given proper medical attention in time.[134] Also, in Gomel, relatives, and friends of over 500 arrested people were not allowed to visit them. The local police did not tell them anything about their relatives' fate. It was also reported that the policewoman abused an arrested woman there.[135]

Protesters in Minsk on 15 August

During widespread protests in Grodno, a 5-year-old was injured, and their father arrested after the car they were in was rammed by government forces.[136]

On 12 August, people in Minsk and later in other cities started to line up on streets to protest against the government's brutal suppression. The majority of the protesters were women wearing white clothes.[137][138] Former members of the Belarusian military, police, and special forces expressed their solidarity with the opposition by publishing videos publicly throwing their uniforms in the garbage, condemning violent acts by the security forces, calling on the authorities to stop opposing the will of the people.[139]

On the same day, the Belarus Interior Minister stated that a "shoot to kill" policy in cases of self defence was permitted.[140]

In many places in Minsk, riot police were observed moving in ambulances and shooting at people, stopping near crowds, which is a violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.[141][142]

On 13 August, many lines of protesters demonstrating in solidarity against violence by the police were observed,[143][144][145] including thousands of women dressed in white.[146] Strikes of workers in several state-owned factories also took place.[146]

External images
Protesters in Minsk
Protesters in Minsk
Female first line of protesters in Minsk
Protesters and government troops in Brest
Protesters in Homiel
Wounded protester
Government troops
Water cannons in use
Barricade in Minsk (graffiti "3%" refers to the protesters' view at the approval rating of Lukashenko)
AMAP/OMON beating protesters and passers-by
Trucks with government troopers in Minsk
Arrest
Arrest of a biker
AMAP/OMON trooper beating random passer-by
Internal trooper firing a shotgun
"Almaz" anti-terrorist squad; one of them has GM-94 portable grenade launcher[147]
Protester beaten up in a detention centre
Policeman and female protesters in Minsk
Female protestors being arrested in Minsk

Numerous reports of different law violations in Belarusian prisons (severe overcrowding, beating, and outrages against prisoners, including torture) were submitted.[148][149][150][151][152][153][154][155]

Protest rally in Minsk, 16 August
Protest rally in Mogilev, 16 August

On 14 August, peaceful protests continued nationwide. Working-class people from Minsk Tractor Works also joined the protest in front of the Government House in Minsk. They took part in a massive march carrying banners claiming that 16,000 workers are supporting this protest.[5] A group of soldiers guarding the building lowered their shields, "appearing to side with the protesters".[156]

There were multiple incidents of police expressing support for and even embracing protesters.[157]

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya asked Belarusian authorities to stop the violence, "engage in dialogue", and call on mayors to organise peaceful rallies across the country over the weekend.[5]

On 15 August, post-election protests continued to grow. For the first time, government-supported television demonstrated episodes of what is happening on the Belarussian streets without any censor. They streamed a farewell ceremony for the murdered during a peaceful protest on 10 August. The Associated Press released a video showing the moment when Alexander Taraikovsky was killed.[158][159]

It was reported that President Lukashenko's authorities asked Kremlin representatives about the possibility of Lukashenko escaping to Russia. Furthermore, it was reported that Russia admits that Lukashenko's resignation from the head of state is likely.[160][161] The editor-in-chief of the anti-government website Charter 97 claimed that Russian troops were concentrated along the Belarus-Russia border in preparation for a potential invasion, possibly within the next 48 hours.[162] Although it was also reported that Lukashenko spoke to President Putin with both sides expressing confidence that all existing problems would be settled soon, the possibility of foreign mediation was firmly rejected by Lukashenko.[163]

Peaceful demonstrations have taken place in several cities, including Moscow, where 400 mainly wore white formed a chain near the Belarusian Embassy in support of the protesters.[164]

Some protesters in Minsk expressed solidarity with the anti-government Khabarovsk Krai protests in the Russian Far East.[165]

Support for the protesters came from Slovakian officials, including Slovakia's ambassador of Belarus to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya,[166] Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, tweeted a message of support for the protesters; the Presidential Palace in Bratislava was illuminated in the colours of the historical flag of Belarus.[167]

Protest rally in Babruysk, 16 August

On 16 August, Lukashenko's supporters were bussed into Minsk from various places across the country for a pro-Lukashenko rally, which had a much smaller turnout than the opposition demonstrations,[168] which were the largest yet.[48] The Belarusian Interior Ministry claimed a turnout of 65,000 at the pro-Lukashenko rally. A Reuters reporter estimated a turnout of 5,000.[48] In a rambling speech to supporters, Lukashenko said he would not step down; claimed that NATO was amassing "military power on the western borders"; and warned supporters not to mess with Lukashenko or they will be beggars and struggle to live.[168] Lukashenko also rejected calls for fresh elections.[168][169] NATO rejected Lukashenko's claims.[170] Directly before the speech, Lukashenko called Russian President Putin for the second time in two days.[168]

Opposition groups called for a "National March for Freedom" in Minsk and similar marches to occur in cities and towns across the country. Supporters were asked to converge on government buildings and call for the immediate release of all political prisoners, for those responsible for the deaths and torture of protesters to be brought to justice and for the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko.[169] Organizers estimated 100,000–220,000 people were attending the Minsk demonstration.[171] Many were carrying red and white flags.[172] The Belarusian press reported that persons in civilian clothes made arbitrary detentions of opposition supporters after the Minsk rally.[173] Later that evening, it was reported that former Prime Minister of Belarus, Syarhey Rumas, who was dismissed by Lukashenko in June 2020, had posted a message of support for the anti-Lukashenko protesters on his Instagram account.[174] Earlier, Rumas's wife had published a photograph of herself and Rumas on the roof of a building overlooking the protests and a message of support.[175]

Second week (16–22 August)

Lukashenko had announced that an air assault brigade would hold week-long un-scheduled maneuvers starting 17 August in western Belarus before announcing that NATO forces were "at the gates" and threatening the country, prompting President Putin to offer military assistance,[176] opening a possibility of Belarus being taken over through annexation or a "union state".[177] In the early morning of 17 August, several military trucks carrying unmarked soldiers were spotted heading towards Minsk on M1 "Belarus" highway in Russia.[178]

17 August saw Lukashenko booed and shouted at when he gave a speech at a Minsk wheel tractor plant. He told the audience they would have to kill him to get another election. Meanwhile, a broadcast by the state TV showed empty news desks as TV presenters had walked out on strike,[179][180][181] and members of the European Parliament issued a joint statement stating that they did not recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the president of Belarus and considered him a persona non grata in the European Union.[182] The joint statement also proclaimed that reliable information shows that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the election.[183]

On 17 August 2020, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya released a video in which she stated that she was ready to lead a transitional government[184] and organize a new, free and fair presidential election.[185] Lukashenko conceded that an early presidential election could be held if a new constitution is adopted,[186][187] after it has been drafted and a referendum is held and passed.[188] The Prime Minister of Belarus, Roman Golovchenko, and cabinet resigned on 17 August 2020 in accordance with the constitution following an election.[189][190]

Pavel Latushko, director of the Janka Kupala National Theatre in Minsk and former minister of culture, who had previously condemned the violence and cautiously supported the protests, was fired by the Belarusian Ministry of Culture.[191]

Countrywide strikes

Miners of the Belaruskaly [ru] potash company in Salihorsk went on strike, refusing to go down the mines, and BMZ Steel Works in Zhlobin suspended work of the steel furnaces.[192][193][194] BMZ workers announced to start an indefinite strike if their requirements are not met. Thousands of workers of Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ), Minsk Automobile Works (MAZ), Minsk Motor Works (MMZ; ru), Minsk electrotechnical factory (METZ; ru) and other factories marched through the city to the headquarters of the biggest state TV company and other locations. BelAZ workers in Zhodzina were intimidated by the company management, and their protest rally was postponed. A number of other factories suspended work temporarily (warning strike) or organized rallies with political demands (including Naftan [ru] oil refinery and "Polimir" chemical factory in Novapolatsk, glass fiber factory in Polatsk, Grodno-Azot fertilizer factory).[195][196][197]

It was reported that 76 people disappeared during the protests in Belarus as of 17 August, because they are not on the lists of arrested and convicted.[198] Igor Leshchenya, the Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia who sided with the protesters and the first official to do so, said that he does not think there is a threat of Russian military intervention, stating that it was in the interests of Russia to "to support new free and fair elections". He also said that a new election was inevitable.[199]

On 18 August, it was reported that international companies in retail, banks, mobile, and food sectors have started pulling their advertising campaigns from Belarusian TV channels, including the state TV.[200] German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Vladimir Putin, saying that the Belarusian government must avoid using force against peaceful protesters, immediately release political prisoners and start a national dialogue. In response, Putin warned Merkel that foreign interference in the ex-Soviet state would be unacceptable.[201][202] The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, resigned,[203] along with four other diplomats.[204]

The troupe of Janka Kupala National Theater in Minsk resigned en-masse.[205] The Government of the Republic of Estonia confirmed that they did not recognise the election results.[206] An extract of a letter from Maria Kolesnikova (a member of Tikhanovskaya's headquarters) was published by Ekho Moskvy radio station stating that Belarus should respect all of its existing agreements with Russia, that Russia was an important partner (within the Union State of Russia and Belarus), and that recent tensions were because of Lukashenko.[207]

Workers from various additional factories and postal workers joined the strikes and the Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorusi newspaper said it was unable to print its Tuesday edition focusing on historic protests over the weekend, before announcing it had secured another printer that would produce its print edition a day late.[208]

The Belarusian Telegraph Agency issued a misleading video purporting to show Belarusian protesters being violent. Pictures from Belarus were mixed with pictures from the 2019 protests in Catalonia.[209] Demonstrations supporting Lukashenko took place in Mogilev, Gomel, and Khotsimsk.[210][211][212] During the pro-Lukashenko rally in Mogliev, a helicopter flew over the attendees with the state flag, while a large state flag was blown off the local government building where it was hung. In Mogilev, one of the activists marching near the executive committee building was deliberately injured by a hit-and-run driver, with no medically significant outcome.[213] In a statement made on 18 August 2020, Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko stated that, "to date, all enterprises in the real sector of the economy are operating normally, conveyors are not stopped anywhere."[214]

On 19 August, the OMON forces dispersed the protesters that had gathered in the morning at the entrance to Minsk Tractor Works; two people were detained.[215] 300 employees at the Minsk Tractor Works reportedly lost their jobs for demonstrating. Other workers were locked in the factory to stop them from walking out.[216] The same day, Alexei Petkevich, endoscopist and employee of the Republican Clinical Medical Centre in Minsk, announced that on 14 August, he resigned his job in protest of the mass beatings of the detained protesters, stating, "I was shocked by what I saw. Our people were humiliated and torn to pieces".[217] Natalya Volvacheva, the headmaster of Polotsk school No. 5, also resigned in protest, saying, "My colleagues have been broken down by threats, turned into criminals, and made hostages of the system".[218]

Over 200 Belarusian sportsmen and sportswomen, sports journalists and employees of the sports sphere (Yelena Leuchanka, Nikolai Kozeko, Volha Mazuronak, Maryna Arzamasova, Aliaksandra Ramanouskaya, Stepan Popov, and many others) signed an open letter to Alexander Lukashenko, where, among other things, demanded that the last presidential election be invalidated, all the persons detained during the protests be released, all the political prisoners be released and rehabilitated, and those responsible of the beatings and "bestial abuses" of the detainees be identified and punished.[219][220] Human Rights Watch noted that most of the protests had been peaceful and described the police round-ups as "systemically brutal."[221] The Belarusian central election committee said that Mr. Lukashenko would be inaugurated as president for a new term within the next two months.[222] Lukashenko has ordered the police to quell all protests in Minsk and has tightened border controls, checks have been introduced on people entering the TV station, and all state workers have been told they will lose their jobs if they protest, with workers reportedly being brought in from Russia to replace striking workers.[223] Two pro-Lukashenko rallies were held in Barysaw and Babruysk, both of which also featured police helicopters with the state flag.[224][225][226][227] A second pro-Lukashenko rally was also held in Minsk. Others were held in the towns of Luninets and Staryya Darohi.[228][229]

Most of the staff of Radio Stalitsa of the state-owned National State Television and Radio Company of the Republic of Belarus resigned in solidarity with the demonstrators.[230] There currently are no broadcasts on the station except for sports news. A demonstration of hundreds chanting "resign" and "let them out" in the evening outside the Interior Ministry in Minsk was allowed to continue peacefully with no police interference.[231]

Line of protest against violence ("Never again") from Kurapaty memorial to Akrestsina detention centre,[232] Minsk, 21 August

On 20 August, Alexander Konyuk, Prosecutor General of Belarus, initiated criminal proceedings against the members of the Coordination Council under Article 361 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, on the grounds of attempting to seize state power and harming national security.[233][234] Council members Sergei Dylevsky and Maxim Znak were summoned for police questioning.[235] Four members of the security forces resigned in solidarity with the demonstrators.[236] Lukashenko has called some of the protesters "Nazis".[237] Another pro-Lukashenko rally was held in Minsk at Independence Square, with another helicopter bearing a state flag flying over the demonstrators.[238] At the same time, a separate rally was also held at the Lenin monument in front of the Government House in Minsk, only to be outnumbered by anti-Lukashenko demonstrators.[239] In response, some pro-Lukashenko demonstrators joined the opposition protest, while others left the rally. Traffic in Minsk was halted by a drivers strike honking their horns and abandoning their vehicles in support of protesters.[240] A small group of Lukashenko supporters were seen in Hrodna handing out state flags and other pro-government material to passersby.[241] A pro-government rally was held at a stadium in Slutsk, after which, rally attendees approached a solidarity chain formed by opponents of Lukashenko and attempted to snatch Belarusian opposition flags from the protesters.[242]

On 21 August, presidential candidate Hanna Kanapatskaya filed an appeal against the official election result with the Supreme Court of Belarus.[243] French President Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany offered to mediate between the Government of Belarus, the opposition, and civil society.[244][245] Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya held a press conference for the international media in which she said she hoped to return Belarus when it is safe for her to do so. She urged all countries to respect the sovereignty and called on protesters to step up their strikes despite "intimidation".[237] Chair of the Belarus Athletic Federation, Olympic athlete and former member of the House of Representatives, Vadim Devyatovskiy, posted a message on his Facebook page in which he stated "Lukashenko is not my President!!!!!" and that his previous support for the regime was a "delusion" and "betrayal".[246][247] The leader of the strike at Minsk automobile plant, Yevgeny Bokhvalov, had been arrested whilst an organiser of the strike at the Belaruskali potash factory in Soligorsk, Dmitry Kudelevich was detained before escaping through a toilet window and fleeing to Ukraine.[248] The Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, current chairperson of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said OSCE was going to Minsk to meet with the government and the opposition to look at mediation.[249] A pro-government rally was held in Gomel where tractors could be seen waving the state flag.[250] A small number of cars could also be seen waving the state flag by Independence Square in Minsk.[251]

On 22 August, the Chairman of the Grodno Region Executive Committee, Vladimir Kravtsov, was dismissed by Lukashenko and replaced by former health minister Vladimir Karanik.[252] Lukashenko appeared at a pro-government rally in Grodno later that afternoon.[253] During the rally, Lukashenko called on the military to defend the western border of Belarus, accusing Warsaw and Vilnius of being behind the protests. The president warned that "this is not only our border, this is the border of the Union State, this is the CSTO border, and the answer will be appropriate." He also defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying "You didn't believe me when I said, 'You don't need to isolate people.' What are Westerners saying now?" Lukashenko called out striking workers from the state-owned Grodnozhilbud construction company, saying "We will do even without Grodnozhilbud, we have enough builders in the country", and also called out priests participating in the protests, quoting that "People should come to the temples to pray. Churches...are not for politics." Several journalists were detained at the rally.[254] Opposition supporters organised a woman's march against police violence in Minsk which culminated in a vigil at Independence Square where the assembled crowd was addressed by Maria Kolesnikova and Pavel Latushko.[255] Opposition rallies were also held in Grodno and Brest.[256]

Third week (23–29 August)

Rally against Lukashenko. Minsk, 23 August

On 23 August, a rally of approximately 250,000 people dubbed "the march for a new Belarus" began at 14:00 in Minsk and headed towards Independence Square.[257][258] Similar rallies were also organized in other cities and towns across the country. Human chains in solidarity for the Belarusian democracy movement have been organised in other countries, including one that will stretch from Vilnius to the border with Belarus.[259][260] Military vehicles were seen on the streets of Minsk and road blocks and checkpoints were established on the main roads leading into the city.[261] The army also assumed responsibility for the protection of statues and monuments from local police forces.[262] The area around the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum, where protesters had gathered the previous week, was blocked off with barbed wire.[263] It was reported that people were detained by armed officers in military uniform near the museum.[264] The rally later passed the museum where Maria Kolesnikova urged participants to not antagonize security personnel.[265]

External image
Government troopers near residence of Lukashenko in Minsk, 23 August
Lukashenko with a gun arrived by helicopter in the Palace of Independence

Later in the afternoon, the rally moved onward toward State Flag Square and the Independence Palace where protesters faced off against security forces who had set up a road block.[266][267][268][269] It has been reported that Alexander Lukashenko is in residence at the Independence Palace.[270][271] There were also reports that a presidential helicopter was seen heading towards the palace[272] and that it had landed in the grounds at 19:05.[273][274] Footage later emerged showing Lukashenko walking near the helicopter, wearing a bullet proof vest and holding an AKS-74U without a magazine[275][276] and then walking around the palace grounds. In the latter footage, Lukashenko was heard saying "Leave me alone," and "There is no one left there, right?". His 15-year-old son, Nikolai, was seen with him dressed in military uniform and holding a gun.[277][278][279] In a third video, he is seen surveying protesters from a helicopter and is heard saying "How the rats ran away" in an apparent reference to the protesters. In a fourth video, Lukashenko was seen removing the former flag of Belarus from a flower bed, waving at security personnel whilst telling them they are "handsome" and in reference to protesters, saying "we will deal with them".[280] Large groups of security personnel were later seen heading towards the centre of Minsk[281] and military helicopters were seen flying over parts of the city.[282] Authorities asked mobile operators to restrict 3G access to parts of Minsk at around 18:30 local time.[283] The presidential helicopter was seen leaving the palace at about 20:47 and it was unknown if Lukashenko was on board or not.[284] The official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed that 30,000 people attended pro-government demonstrations in the past day, against 6,100 attending anti-government demonstrations.[285]

On 24 August, presidium members of the Coordination Council, Sergei Dylevsky and Olga Kovalkova were detained by the security services whilst attempting to support striking workers at the Minsk Tractor Works factory.[286][287][288][289] Three other presidium members, Svetlana Alexievich, Lilia Vlasova and Pavel Latushko, were also summoned for questioning.[290] Police appeared to be less tolerant of protests, rallies and strikes, actively breaking up lines of solidarity in Minsk[291] and arresting leaders of strikes at state-owned enterprises.[292] Despite increased police presence, groups of protesters were still able to gather in Independence Square in Minsk, where they shouted "Leave"[293][294] and also in Grodno and in Brest.[295][296][297] Alexander Lukashenko issued a statement in which he threatened dismissal for school teachers who do not follow "state ideology".[298] An employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fired after he had attended an anti-Lukashenko rally the previous week with another Ministry employee.[299] The Government of Lithuania handed a note of protest to the Belarusian ambassador in Vilnius accusing the Belarusian armed forces of violating Lithuanian airspace by as much as 3 km the previous day.[300][301] Belarus claimed that its air force was attempting to prevent balloons depicting the former flag of Belarus, which was described as an "anti-state symbol", from crossing the border.[302]

25 August marked the 29th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Belarus from the Soviet Union and the re-adoption of the white-red-white flag. Olga Kovalkova appeared in court via video link on charges of illegally organising a strike[303] and Pavel Latushko presented himself to the KGB for questioning. Both Kovalkova and Sergei Dylevsky were sentenced to 10 days imprisonment.[304][305][306][307] A group of teachers organised a protest outside the headquarters of the education ministry in Minsk in relation to possible dismissals for teachers who supported opposition protests or refused to promote state ideology.[308] In the early evening, a rally was held in Independence Square in Minsk, which was addressed by some of the members of the Supreme Council session that declared Belarus an independent state in 1991.[309][310] A pro-Lukashenko demonstration, dubbed "Belarus is Lukashenko", was also held in Minsk. During the demonstration, anti-Lukashenko protesters were described as "Satanists" and told to "go to Hell", some participants mocked journalists covering the event and waved Russian flags.[311][312] An employee of the Belarusian embassy in India was fired after declaring his support for the protests.[313]

Demonstration against Lukashenko in front of the Belarus Embassy in Moscow, Russia, 23 August

On 26 August, residents began recall proceedings against at least 20 members of the House of Representatives.[314] Coordination Council member and Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich was summoned for interrogation but refused to answer any questions and was subsequently released.[315] The home of opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo was raided by police.[316] A group of about 500 employees of BelAZ marched from their place of work to the centre of Zhodzina.[317] By late evening, a group of anti-Lukashenko demonstrators had gathered on Independence Square in Minsk.[318][319] At around 20:30, security forces began to disperse the crowd, encircling demonstrators and detaining several people.[319][320][321] At the same time, mobile internet was turned off in Minsk at the request of the authorities.[322] Security forces locked the doors of the Saints Simon and Helena Roman Catholic church trapping around 100 people inside.[323] The Catholic Archbishop of Minsk-Mogilev, Yuri Kasabutsky, protested against the actions of the security forces, calling them illegal.[324]

On 27 August, Alexander Lukashenko asked the Russian government to raise a reserve force for deployment to Belarus if necessary.[325] The Government of Belarus declined an offer from the heads of the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to visit Minsk to help mediate between the government and the opposition.[326] In the afternoon, around 20 journalists, from both local and international media, were detained on Freedom Square in Minsk.[327][328] They were taken to the Kastrychnitski district police, supposedly to check their identity and accreditation.[329] Later that day, a group of Christians carrying Bibles had gathered outside the Saints Simon and Helena Roman Catholic Church on Independence Square, Minsk in protest of the desecration of the church by the security services that had occurred the previous day.[330] The entrance to the church was blocked by security forces to prevent people from entering or leaving the church. A crowd of demonstrators later formed on Independence Square outside the church which was surrounded by the security forces. Women and children were allowed to leave the square but men were prevented from doing so. At least 150 people were detained.[331][332] Many of the people who were dispersed from the demonstration on Independence Square continued to march through the city, singing religious songs and chanting anti-government slogans.[333] A pro-Lukashenko rally was held in front of the Belarus supermarket in Minsk, but it was ended abruptly by rain.[334]

On 28 August, anti-Lukashenko demonstrators again gathered on Independence Square in Minsk.[335] The demonstration was broken up by security forces, which had encircled the square.[336] Male demonstrators were rounded up and placed into police vans and taken away for questioning.[337][338] Female demonstrators were allowed to leave the square. Security forces broke up an anti-Lukashenko rally on Pushkin Street in Minsk.[339] Access to several anti-government websites was blocked.[340] A pro-Lukashenko bike ride was held in Minsk led by Alexander Lukashenko's son Viktor Lukashenko.[341]

"Women's march" against Lukashenko. Minsk, 29 August

On 29 August, a pro-government rally and an anti-government bikers rally took place in Minsk[342][343][344] Barriers were installed around the Independence Palace, Victory Square and October Square in Minsk[345][346] and buses with their windows blacked out were seen around Freedom Square in the city.[347] Unidentified vehicles with Russian number plates were seen driving around Minsk.[348] A woman's solidarity march, numbering approximately five thousand people, began on Independence Avenue at 16:00 and headed towards Independence Square.[349][350] Riot police attempted to block its progress, but the march was able to pass. By 19:00, the rally had grown at approximately fifteen thousand people and was heading towards Bangalore Square, again overpowering security forces that tried to block its progress.[349][351][352][353] At least two journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and one journalist from TUT.by were detained at this rally.[354] An anti-Lukashenko demonstration was also held in Brest.[355] Solidarity demonstrations took place in Jerusalem[356] and in Frankfurt.[357]

Fourth week (30 August–5 September)

Rally against Lukashenko. Minsk, 30 August
Soldiers behind barbed wire. Minsk, 30 August

30 August marked Alexander Lukashenko's 66th birthday and a programme of national celebrations had been planned by the government, public authorities and his supporters. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Lukashenko to offer birthday greetings and the two agreed to meet in Moscow in the coming weeks.[358] Independent media sources reported a large build up of military vehicles and security personnel around Minsk with access to public squares being fenced off and roads being blocked.[359][360][361] Lukashenko's opponents had planned a series of events and rallies culminating in a "March for Peace and Independence" which was to proceed down Independence Avenue to Independence Square and then onward to the Independence Palace. Similar rallies are also planned to take place in regional capitals where opponents were asked to gather at regional administrative headquarters.[361] Opponents of Lukashenko have been asked to bring appropriate birthday gifts and to leave these at Lukashenko's official residences around the country.[360][361] Responding to this call, a group of women dressed in traditional costumes brought pumpkins to the government house, a sign of rejection in Belarusian culture.[362] At around 14:00, local time, reports emerged of security forces arbitrarily detaining people and placing them into police vans.[363][364] At approximately 14:50 it was reported that demonstrators had managed to breach a police line across the Independence Avenue, forcing security forces to retreat further down the street.[365] Rumors began to circulate on the Telegram platform that internet access would be stopped across Minsk at 15:00.[366][367] At about 15:30, the main rally had reached the Great Patriotic War Museum which was guarded by security forces.[368][369] The rally continued to move towards State Flag Square and the Independence Palace where security forces had set up a roadblock.[370][371][372] At 16:30, there were reports of "tanks" moving through the streets of Minsk (which later turned out to be several BTR-80 military vehicles).[373][374][360] Shortly before 17:00, three members of the presidium of the Coordination Council and several Belarusian Olympic athletes had appeared at the police line in front of the Independence Palace.[375] Security forces warned the crowd to disperse or be subject to the use of force.[376] Rather than dispersing, the demonstrators began to place gifts, such as cardboard cutouts of cockroaches, police vans, helicopters and white slippers for Lukashenko in front of the police line.[377] By 19:00, most of the crowd had moved back towards the city centre, partly due to a hailstorm that had broken out.[378] Crowds continued to remain at State Flag Square, outside the Castle shopping centre and in the streets around the city centre, where people continued to chant anti-Lukashenko slogans.[379] When questioned about the whereabouts of Alexander Lukashenko, his publicity team released a photograph of him walking around the grounds of the Independence Palace holding a gun (presumably from his "standoff" a week earlier).[380] By mid-afternoon, demonstrations were also taking place in Gomel,[381] Brest,[382][383] Grodno,[384] Vitebsk,[385] Mogilev and several other towns and cities.[361] Riot police detained a number of demonstrators in Grodno.[361]

On 31 August, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was invited to address the United Nations Security Council.[386] The Metropolitan Archbishop of Minsk and Mahilyow and head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, was prevented from entering the country after visiting Poland, despite being a Belarusian citizen.[387] Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz had earlier stated that he believed the presidential election had been dishonest.[388] Coordination Council presidium member Liliya Vlasova was detained by the Department of Internal Affairs on unknown charges.[389] The Belarusian ambassador for Spain was removed from his post after saying that the votes from the presidential election should be recounted and that "open court hearings" should proceed against police officers accused of excessive force and torture.[390]

On 1 September, Knowledge Day in Belarus and Russia when most scholar institutions opened, several streets in downtown Minsk were blocked by protesters,[391] and over a thousand students from various institutions gathered on major streets rallying towards the Independence Palace. Upon being refused entry by the military, students turned around and occupied the Independence Square.[392] Two Euroradio journalists were detained on the spot.[393] At least 20 students were detained by early afternoon in Minsk, charged with "organizing unsanctioned protests and rallies". Only a few were released hours later.[394] In Mogilev and Kalinkavichy, some of the local protest leaders were detained by riot police.[395] In a meeting with his supporters in Baranavichy, Alexander Lukashenko explained that the catholic bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was refused entry into Belarus due to "being tasked with certain things there".[396] He reassured the people that Belarus would hinder sanctions from Baltic countries and mentioned the closure of borders in Brest and Grodno as a potential counteract to the sanctions.[397]

On 2 September, the journalists detained the previous day were tried and fined in accordance with the administrative code of Belarus. That decision was met with crowds in solidarity with the journalists outside the State courthouse.[398] The remaining three members of the Coordination Council were brought up for questioning.[398] Over a thousand railroad workers wrote a direct address to their corporation, asking for another elections to be held and Lukashenko ousted from his presidential position. Ignoring contract termination warnings, some of them also went on strike that day.[398] A similar address came out of the Grodno meat-processing factory, where over 800 workers signed a letter of protest directed at Lukashenko.[399]

The Belarus State University Lyceum published a statement on their website condemning violence, injustice and electoral fraud coming from Lukashenko's government. They also urged major institutions to close and go on strike, suggesting that "they cannot arrest all of us, most of us".[400] The Mozyr Oil Refinery director decided to close its main building after receiving a letter signed by 1,200 personnel concerned about police brutality in the region. The same address also had similar goals brought up, including re-election and Lukashenko's resignation.[401] Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, held a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Vladimir Makei, where they discussed the current situation in Belarus. Lavrov urged Ukraine to investigate the presence of 200 trained extremists currently found in Belarus and allegedly sent there by the Ukrainian government.[402] Dmitry Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, retorted by calling this statement "a fruit of psychological delirium" and affirmed that Ukraine had no current implication in Belarusian affairs, nor a planned one, unlike the Russian government.[403] The Catholic Synod of Eastern Europe released a statement calling the entry denial of archbishop Kondrusiewicz "unacceptable" and asked the European Human Rights Board to intervene.[403] One of the members of Coordination Council, Pavel Latushko, who was brought for questioning in the morning, later tweeted to have left the country for Poland. He planned to visit the economic forum in Warsaw, then to fly to Vilnius in order to speak with the Internal Ministry of Lithuania about what to do next.[404]

According to Mikita Mikado, a co-founder of startup IT company PandaDoc, their Minsk offices were raided and stormed by police the same day after one of the servers had been leaking inside data about protest organization despite internet censorship by the government.[405] In response to this, company workers formed a chain of solidarity outside the building, singing Belarusian songs. The two founders as well as two programmers were detained following these events. In downtown Minsk around 17:00, young women and men started forming chains while dressed in white, bearing flowers and anti-Lukashenko posters. The crowd did not rally this time, however, they stood for two hours, then shouted "Thank you!" to nearby riot patrols for not interfering. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 128 individuals were detained on 1 September, with 95 being charged with administrative misconduct while 39 were sentenced to different terms of imprisonment.[406]

On 3 September, in the morning, near the spontaneous memorial at the site of the death of Alexander Taraikovsky near the Pushkinskaya metro station, utilities, under the supervision of police officers and law enforcement officers in civilian clothes, covered the inscription "We will not forget" with salt and removed all the flowers put there by civilians the previous night. Residents of the area almost immediately began to rake, sweep and collect salt in garbage bags, ignoring the police. People were also seen bringing flowers to the memorial again. By 4:00 pm, all the salt was removed, and the area with the inscription was washed.[407][408] A TUT.by photojournalist, Vadim Zamirovsky, was detained when he returned to the memorial twice after being asked to leave by police.[409] Sergey Dylevsky was sentenced to 15 days of imprisonment. Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš announced that, at a government meeting, a letter was addressed to the International Ice Hockey Federation with an appeal to move the 2021 IIHF World Championship from Belarus to another country.[410] More than 50 employees of independent media (BelaPAN, TUT.BY, Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, Tribuna, Onliner, Euroradio, Radio Liberty and others) came to the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to express solidarity with the detained colleagues. Despite their requests the Minister Yuri Karaev did not come out, and neither did his deputy. At the request of law enforcement officers, the journalists crossed the street and marched down the Gorodskoy Val. Soon thereafter, law enforcement officers in civilian clothes detained a TUT.by photographer, Dmitry Brushko, taking him to the Oktyabrsky district police department.[411]

On 4 September, the Oktyabrsky District court held trials against journalists from Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, BelaPAN and TUT.by. All six correspondents were found guilty and sentenced to three days of imprisonment.[412] The Belarusian Association of Journalists protested against the arrests and court indictments against journalists, putting forward demands to end the violation of the rights of journalists and the media, stop physical violence against journalists and peaceful protesters and revise court decisions by punishing those who obstructed journalist activities.[413] A number of MSLU students were detained after performing a song from the musical "Les Misérables" in the lobby of their educational institution.[414][415] The staff of the Museum of History of Mogilev wrote an open appeal to Belarusian executive and legislative authorities, demanding the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko and announcing their readiness to go on strike.[416] The state TV channel ONT published a news item stating the Belarusian Electronic Warfare Directorate purportedly intercepted a conversation between Warsaw and Berlin. According to the ONT report, the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was closely connected with the ongoing events in Belarus. The alleged purpose of the poisoning, according to the ONT report, is to distract President Putin from the events in Belarus and turn his attention to internal problems in Russia. Germany denied the existence of this conversation.[417][418] These claims mirror Lukashenko's statements from a day earlier, when, at a meeting with the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, he said that there was no poisoning of Navalny, that it was a falsification, and that some "interesting conversation" had been sent to the Russian FSB.[419][420]

On 5 September, at noon, a solidarity rally was organized by students near the "October" cinema in Minsk. Minutes later, people in civilian clothes began to detain the protesters.[421] Around 15:00, hundreds of women gathered near the Komarovsky marketplace for the "March For Peace" rally. They walked in a column along Vera Khoruzhaya Street and Independence Avenue towards Independence Square. At 18:00, part of the protesters marched in circle through Nemiga Street and returned to Independence Square. The riot police' attempts at obstructing the march were unsuccessful. The end of the rally almost coincided in time with the beginning of the evening service in the Church of Saints Simon and Helena dedicated to the people who suffered at the protests on Independence Square. According to Belarusian journalists, about 10,000 people took part in the action.[422][423] Four PandaDoc employees who were detained on 2 September were sentenced to two months of imprisonment. The company called that an act of revenge for supporting the police officers who had voluntarily quit the service and announced termination of its work in Belarus.[424] The press service of the Coordination Council announced the departure of Olga Kovalkova to Poland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine announced the suspension of official contacts with Belarus.[425] According to the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, on 5 September, 91 citizens were detained for "participating in unauthorized mass events". 34 detainees were placed into custody for considerable administrative offenses, awaiting the court's decision.[426]

Fifth week (6–12 September)

"March of Unity" near the Minsk Hero City Obelisk. Minsk, 6 September
"March of Unity" near the Palace of Independence. Minsk, 6 September

On 6 September, a "March of Unity" took place in Minsk and all major regional centres. According to Nasha Niva, around 6,000 people took part in the protests in Gomel, 4,000 in Grodno, 3,000 in Brest, Vitebsk and Mogilev. The protest in Minsk was reported to have up to 200,000 participants.[427][428] About the same number of protesters confirmed their participation on the online platform "Golos".[429] Columns of military and special equipment (including armored personnel carriers) with UAZ trailers were unwinding barbed wire around Independence Square in Minsk.[430] Independence and Victory Squares were closed in advance and surrounded by metal barriers while Oktyabrskaya Square, an area around "Hero City of Minsk" monument, as well as the Palace of Independence, were occupied by water trucks wielding Rubezh anti-riot barriers. At 14:35, mobile internet of the A1 operator was disconnected. Users of other mobile operators also reported internet lockup.[431] In the afternoon, six metro stations were closed.[432]

Throughout the city riot policemen attempted to disperse the columns of protesters from within residential districts in order to prevent protesters from reaching the centre. Violent detentions with beating of people were observed near the metro stations "Pushkinskaya" and "Vostok" and near the supermarket "Rublevsky" on Chebotarev street. However, people still managed to get together and march along Victors Avenue toward the Independence Palace.[433] Once there, protesters held a demonstration for over an hour and a half, until a police warning was issued sometime after 18:00 to disperse, or be subject to detention. The remaining crowd who did not want to leave was forced into Victory Park and near Lake Komsomolskoye by OMON. Protesters showing resistance were pulled back through the police line and put in detention vans. Women were only detained, but men were beaten, including those who did not show violence or resistance. A number of detainees were overpowered and beaten by people in civilian clothes wearing bulletproof vests and armed with batons. Their excessive aggression was purportedly overlooked by police.[434] Fleeing detention, remaining protesters dispersed into a wooded area of the park. Some of the protesters tried to save themselves by jumping into the lake and were subsequently rescued by the local safety volunteers who transported them to the other side of the lake. A Russian blogger and journalist, Alexei Romanov, was among them at that time. He was detained and taken to Okrestina. Two hours later, police released him, as well as other Russian citizens.[435][436]

In the evening, rescuers who helped protesters out of the water were detained as well. At least eight employees of the station of the water rescue organization located on Lake Komsomolskoye were taken to the Central District Department in Minsk. Later, one of the rescuers wound up in an ambulance with a dislocated shoulder. The other was almost unconscious. Another elderly rescuer had cardiovascular issues. According to relatives, the head of OSVOD rescue station, Denis Cheshun, was driven from to Okrestina. All the rescuers were charged with disobedience, as apparently they did not hand over people to riot police.[437][438] During the protests in Minsk, several people took refuge in the O'Petit coffee shop on Nemiga Street, locking all the doors from the inside. Soon, about ten law enforcement officers in civilian clothes, including Nikolai Karpenkov, head of the Lead Department of Organized Crime Prevention, approached the café and Karpenkov personally broke a glass door with a truncheon. This was the first time in 29 days of protests when damage was done to a public property.[439][440] According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 633 people were detained that day, with 363 detainees placed under custody awaiting trials for administrative offenses. A total of 42 protest actions were recorded in various settlements of the country, and the total number of 31,000 people participated in the protests across the country.[441][442]

On 7 September, Maria Kolesnikova was abducted in Minsk: masked men kidnapped her and drove off in a van. The officials denied the accusations of abduction.[443] The following day, it was reported by Belarusian officials that Maria Kolesnikova was detained at the border with Ukraine while trying to cross the border with two of her associates, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov. In a further press-conference in Kiev, Rodenkov and Kravtsov reported that Kolesnikova was abducted by Belarusian security forces and was forced to leave Belarus in Kravtsov's car, which she eventually avoided by tearing her passport apart and timely leaving the car through a window. Reportedly, in the aftermath, Kolesnikova was taken to a border troop installation in Mozyr.[444][445][446] The news was met with another protest by the end of day in Minsk. People organized a solidarity rally near Komarovsky market and about a thousand protesters marched on Vera Khoruzhaya, Kuibyshev streets. Sometime between 18:00 and 20:00 the crowd gathered on Masherov Ave, demanding reaction to the recent events. The head of Sovetsky Detention Facility came towards the women, who swarmed him with questions about recent detainees until he was overwhelmed and no longer able to answer. Police officers with OMON equipment quickly intervened, detaining, beating and using pepperspray gas against the protesters. Ten unmarked police vans were spotted on premises when the protest ended; 56 people were reported to have been detained.[447][448][449][450]

On 9 September, Tsikhanouskaya recorded a video in which she addressed the Russian people, thanking them for their support and solidarity.[451][452] The remaining two members of Belarusian opposition's Coordination Council, Maxim Znak and Ilya Saley, were detained the same day. Znak was arrested in Minsk by masked men. He had previously worked as a lawyer for imprisoned Belarusian presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka.[453] Saley, also a lawyer, was the executive secretary of the council.[454] As of 9 September Maria Kolesnikova remains in police custody on Volodarsky St, awaiting trial.[455] Svetlana Alexievich alerted the press that "men in black masks" were trying to enter her apartment in central Minsk. "I have no friends and companions left in the Coordinating Council. All are in prison or have been forcibly sent into exile", she wrote in a statement. "First they kidnapped the country, now it's the turn of the best among us. But hundreds more will replace those who have been torn from our ranks. It is not the Coordinating Council that has rebelled. It is the country."[456] Diplomats from Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden began to keep a round-the-clock watch on Alexievich's home to prevent her abduction by security services.[457][458]

On 10 September, a law was passed by the Lithuanian Parliament to recognise Tsikhanouskaya as the "elected leader of the people of Belarus" and the Coordination Council as the "only legitimate representatives of the Belarusian people". The resolution also declares that Lukashenko is an "illegitimate leader".[459] One of the miners of BelarusKaliy in Soligorsk, a 42-year-old Yuri Korzun, protested at his workplace and refused to rise from the shaft at a depth of 305 metres (1,001 ft) in the first mine. His colleagues rose to the surface and began a rally in his support, holding a poster saying "We will not allow the regime to revive fascism". As the representative of the strike committee explained, Yuri did not leave the mine after the night, handcuffing himself as to hinder the attempts to carry him to the surface. He notified the general director of the enterprise in writing about the start of the protest, where he also said that the latter was exerting direct pressure on the staff. An emergency response plan was introduced at the mine.[460] Later, employees of BelarusKaliy learned that Yuri Korzun was forcibly released and taken out of the mine, after which he was sent by ambulance to the emergency room of the Saligorsk Central Regional Hospital. Therefore, the miner's colleagues moved in a column from the mine towards the hospital.[461]

On 11 September, the 38th birthday of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, she and Olga Kovalkova recorded a joint video message for Belarusians calling to support the Coordination Council and to become its members, if possible.[462] Detentions took place in different cities of Belarus in the morning. People began to gather near the Minsk Regional Court to support the representatives of the strike committee of BelarusKaliy, against which the management of the enterprise filed a lawsuit. When tikhari and unmarked security forces approached the protesters, one woman tore off the mask from one of the tikhar's face, resulting in the security forces brutally, with the use of physical force, pushing her onto a minibus without license plates and identification marks. After that, at least 6 more women were detained. In Vitebsk, Dmitry Kazakevich, a journalist working for BelSat, was detained while filming. He was charged with "disrupting the order of mass activities" of the administrative code. Near the Gomel Sukhoi State Technical University, a computer science teacher Vadim Belsky was detained and transported to the Sovetskiy district department of internal affairs. Freelance journalist Andrei Tolchin was also detained in Gomel while cooperating with BelSat.[463] Students of the University came out onto the porch with solidarity banners in support of detained Belsky. Similar actions took place in BSUIR, BSU, BSUE, MSLU, GrSU and other universities of the country. Students formed chains of solidarity and organized local marches. On Leonid Beda Street in Minsk, several people came out in support of PandaDoc, whose accounts were frozen earlier this day, leaving employees penniless.[464] Actress Liya Akhedzhakova recorded a video message in support of the Belarusian people. "Like all my friends, I admire and, with all my heart, support those people who took to the streets of Belarusian cities", she said.[465] During the women's solidarity rally on Independence Square near the St. Helena Church several women were detained. In the microdistrict Shabany, a chain of solidarity was dispersed, at least 10 people were detained.[466][467] According to U.S. First Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Bigan, America does not recognize Lukashenko's legitimacy as president since it conflicts with the Helsinki Final Act and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also spoke about the opposition's right to demand new elections through protest actions.[468]

On 12 September, at 15:00, traditional women's marches began throughout the country ("The loudest march. A friend follows a friend"). In Minsk, it started with between 500 and 1000 people gathering on Freedom Square, including opposition figure Nina Baginskaya. After police tried to detain her, protesters shouted "Nina! Nina!" and fought over her while other activists attempted to tear off the masks of police officers. As a result of clashes 69 people were detained in police vans (according to Viasna). Nevertheless, the women managed to rally from Freedom Square to Academy of Sciences metro station, wherein they crossed the Independence Square and soon went back towards Freedom Square. At about 5:30 pm, the protesters began to disperse with the words "See you tomorrow!". More than 10,000 women took part in the event.[469] Part of the protesters continued their riot at the metro station "Victory Square". Girls shouted opposition slogans at the train conductors who greeted them with honks. BelSat journalists Yekaterina Andreeva and Maksim Kalitovsky, who initially covered this story, were detained later in the evening while police confiscated their equipment. Two hours later both were put under arrest awaiting trial on Tuesday for "obstructing police duty" and transported to Akrestina prison.[470]

Cyber threats to Lukashenko

On the same evening, a message appeared on the Cyber-Partizan Telegram channel, which read: "If at least one protester is detained on September 13, 2020, Belarus will forget the word 'taxes' until arrests stop and Lukashenko leaves his post". Another message addressed Lukashenko directly: "Alexander Grigorievich, we are addressing you personally: It will be very painful, first the tax system will go down, then the electricity in the country will end, then the banking system will go down ... Do you need it? You care so much about your surroundings ... no problem, we can kill the ruble and start blocking the accounts of your close friends. September 13 is the last chance to change your mind. And one more thing: tomorrow you must personally leave the Palace of Independence with a loudspeaker and apologize to the Belarusian people". The self-proclaimed guerrilla society Cyber-Partizan have already taken responsibility for hacking the websites of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the President, Belarusian Lotteries and a number of others, while handing over to the NEXTA administrators databases of employees[clarification needed] of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, OMON and KGB.[471]

Sixth week (13–19 September)

"Heroes March" in Minsk, 13 September 2020

On 13 September, the "Heroes March" rally took place in Minsk. Police presence at major city arteries was felt in the morning, aided by OMON military carriers and unmarked personnel. Any bystanders met with opposition symbols were hastily detained. A large police van accidentally ran into a passenger car and drew attention to itself. Reinforced cordons were placed at exits from metro stations, streets and lanes in the central area of the city.[472] The first column of protesters was contained by police, who attempted once more to break crowds at their formation in residential areas. Individuals trying to break police cordons were severely beaten and then detained. Residents of Malinovka, Moskovsky and other districts decided to amass at metro station "Grushevka" in an attempt to lure police in while the initial column moved towards the centre. Around Renaissance Hotel, protesters were met with another police barrier, this time followed by military personnel in carriers who issued a warning to open fire. A crowd of women came forward and stood in a chain in hopes to persuade OMON, but officers indifferently beat up protesters of both sexes.[473] Seeing how the forces blocked off central districts of the capital, some of the protesters decided to get to the city centre by public transport and thus succeeded in occupying Nemiga St by the early afternoon. The majority of them decided to go to Independence Ave through Zybitskaya St, but pro-government provocateurs from within the crowd gave false direction in hopes of splitting the crowd. As result, the crowd has initially split on Victors Ave until a larger rally came from Drozdy, forcing police to use truncheons, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades in order to stop them.[474] With mass detentions being carried out at that time, some protesters tried to help detainees free themselves from police. In response, an undercover "tikhar" fired a warning shot into the air using a pump-action shotgun, making people retreat in fear.[475] In the evening, withdrawing columns once again marched on Victors Ave through Drozdy. Some of them stood near the makeshift memorial at the site of the death of Alexander Taraikovsky until chased off by incoming police.[476][477] 10 metro stations were closed on Sunday from 14:30 until 19:00. Mobile internet was shut off for about the same period of time, as usual. After 17:00, when protests started to fade, traffic police motorcyclists drove at full speed into the barbed wire ("Yegoza" engineering barriers) which was stretched at the intersection of Victors Ave and Timiryazev St. The wire broke and wrapped around a bystanding woman. An ambulance was called. With the help of caring citizens and security officials, the woman was untangled and handed over to doctors.[478][479] Witness estimates round the number of Sunday protesters in Minsk up to 200,000, same as a week earlier.[480]

The "Heroes March" also took place in the cities of Brest, Bobruisk, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno, Zhodino, Kobrin, Lida, Mogilev, Novopolotsk, Pinsk, Polotsk and others. In many of them, harsh reaction from law enforcement officials towards the opposition was noted, including violence towards girls and women. In Brest, protesters were dispersed with a water cannon.[481] In Zhodino, while protesters were shouting "Police with the people!" an unknown major hit a woman in the face after she approached him too closely. Another woman rushed to help the victim whom he seized and threw to the ground. In retaliation, several protesters formed a human fence around the officer refusing to let him go, until his colleague pushed people away and snatched him.[482] In Novopolotsk, near the children toy market, security forces made an attempt to lock the protesters in a single alley area while awaiting reinforcements. However, an angry mob launched an attack on outnumbered police who hurriedly retreated into minibuses and immediately left. According to the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee, seven people were detained in Polotsk and Novopolotsk during "unauthorized mass events".[483] In Grodno, a man in a white-red-white shirt, fleeing from the security forces, jumped into the Neman river and swam across it to escape persecution. He ended up exhausted on the other side where random people helped him get out of the water onto the riverbank.[484] According to the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, on 13 September, 774 people were detained "for participating in unauthorized mass events". More than 500 protesters in Minsk and another 554 across the country were placed in temporary detention facilities.[485]

On 14 September, information transpired about the number of protesters currently detained in Akrestsin Prison in Minsk. As of Saturday, 109 out of 110 bed bunks were occupied. According to the head of the facility, Yevgeny Shapetko, that number was exceeded with last Sunday's detainees, expanding the allowed sanitary and other capacities beyond those expected.[486] Prior to Putin's and Lukashenko's meeting in Sochi, Bloomberg L.P. released an editorial based on five Kremlin sources according to whom the Russian president does not believe Belarusian protests to have any effect on the current government. In scope of further events, Putin assured the press that Moscow will do whatever it takes to keep the currently established regime in Belarus, and to prevent the opposition from assuming power. At the same time, Putin expressed concern about the number of people demanding Lukashenko's immediate resignation.[487] The encounter of both heads of state took place at Bocharov Ruchey residence, the result of which was Russia granting Belarus a loan of US$1.5 billion. In return Lukashenko announced plans to make a statement to the CSTO and EAEU about the events in Belarus after the elections, and also promised Vladimir Putin to inform him in detail about the protests in Minsk during the talks. According to the TASS news agency, French President Emmanuel Macron also held talks with Vladimir Putin, both leaders expressing their interest in the normalisation of the situation in Belarus.[488]

In Minsk State Linguistic University, an access control scheme was introduced. The administration insisted that, from now on, employees of the Security Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs will be guarding the educational institution, and that a corresponding agreement has been concluded. "In the near future, the video surveillance system will also be expanded and strengthened throughout the MSLU" the administration said. At the same time, an open video message from teachers of the Faculty of Philology of BSU appeared on the network, in which they supported students in their right to express their own opinion and freedom of choice. Students and professors of leading Belarusian universities carried out solidarity actions in response. Doctors of the Minsk 9th hospital and employees of the Academy of Sciences protested and demanded the release of their colleagues, who were detained on Sunday march. In many districts of Minsk, people lined up in chains of solidarity. Near the Red Church, security forces detained three girls who were sitting and holding blank sheets of A4 white or red paper. Sports journalist Sergei Shchurko was also detained. According to his wife, Sergei stopped communicating after 13:00, saying that police officers were going to talk to him. Later it became known that the journalist was being held on an administrative case in Akrestsin prison.[489]

On the same day, Russo-Belarusian military exercises began at the Brestsky training ground under the codename "Slavic Brotherhood-2020". They are expected to last until 25 September. Overall, about 300 servicemen and about 70 units of military and special equipment from Russia will take part in the exercise, mostly consisting of the 76th Guards Airborne Assault Division. The Russian Ministry of Defense stressed that after completion of these exercises, Russian servicemen will return home. Initially, Serbian armed forces were supposed to take part in the drill as well, but Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin clarified that the operation was cancelled and troops were called home under the pressure of the European Union.[490]

On 17 September 2020, the European Parliament recognised the Coordination Council as the "interim representative of the people" of Belarus.[491]

On 18 September 2020, an allegedly politically motivated self-immolation attempt occurred near a police station in Smolevichi.[492][493]

On 19 September 2020, around 2,000 people, mostly women, joined Saturday's Women's march in Minsk.[494][495]The Belarusian Interior Ministry said that 415 protesters were detained during the March, around 390 of them are women. The authorities claim they released 385 detainees later the same night.[496][497]

The leak of personal data of Belarusian police officers

On 19 September 2020, a Telegram channel NEXTA Live leaked the personal data of more than 1,000 Belarusian police officers in retaliation for a growing crackdown against demonstrators, the Google document contained a list of 1,003 names of officers as well as their birthdates, ranks, places of work and hometowns. Separately, NEXTA released seven entries contained personal information, including addresses and phone numbers, belonging to members of the special anti-terror unit of the interior ministry.

“If detentions continue, we will continue to publish data on a massive scale,” NEXTA said in a statement, alongside the Telegram message. NEXTA Live said the information came from anonymous hackers they called “cyber partisans”. “No one will remain anonymous even under a balaclava,” it said.[498]

Seventh week (20 September onward)

Anti-Lukashenko protest rally. Minsk, 20 September
Use of water cannon during the protest rally after the secret inauguration of Lukashenko. It was reported than an orange dye was added to the water to mark the protesters.[499] Minsk, 23 September

On 20 September, about 100,000 people gathered in Minsk. Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the centre of Minsk, deploying water cannons and armoured personnel carriers and erecting barbed wire barriers. Protests also took place in several other Belarusian cities, including Brest and Grodno.[500][501] The Belarusian Interior Ministry said that 442 people were detained for violating the law on mass events in Belarus, including 266 of them in Minsk.[502][503]

On September 23, Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in as President of Belarus for the next term in a brief unannounced sudden inauguration ceremony in Minsk.[504][505] Several countries' Foreign Ministers have declared that they do not consider this inauguration legitimate, including Lithuania,[506] Poland,[507] Germany,[508] Estonia,[509] the United Kingdom and others.[510][511][512][513][514][515]

Following Lukashenko's inauguration, mass opposition protests broke out in Minsk. The protesters used more confrontational tactics than before, blocking some roads and chasing some police vehicles away. The police delployed water cannon to disperse the protesters, and "the masked riot police used tactics that haven't been seen since the violent days immediately after the disputed election in August."[516] [517]

Coordination Council

First press conference of the Coordination Council on 18 August 2020

On 14 August, in a video in which Tsikhanouskaya claimed that she had received between 60 and 70% of the vote, she announced the creation of a Coordination Council to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power in Belarus.[5]

Tsikhanouskaya stated that the council should be made of "civil society activists, respected Belarusians and professionals" to handle the transfer of power from Lukashenko.[5][518] Applications for membership of the transitional council were open to any Belarusian citizen who recognised the election as having been falsified, and who was trusted by a social group by being an authoritative figure such as a doctor, a teacher, a business leader, an author or a sportsperson.[73]

On 17 August, Tsikhanouskaya released a video in which she stated that she is ready to lead a transitional government[184][519] and to organise a new, free and fair presidential election.[185] A list of members was circulated on 17 August 2020 and include Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich.[520][521] The first meeting of the Council took place on 18 August and its leadership was elected the following day.[522]

Lukashenko decried the creation of the council as an 'attempt to seize power' and promised "appropriate measures".[523] On 20 August the chief prosecutor launched a criminal case against the council, calling it unconstitutional.[237]

United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in a statement urged the Belarusian government to actively engage Belarusian society, including through the newly established Coordination Council, in a way that reflects what the Belarusian people are demanding, for the sake of Belarus’ future, and for a successful Belarus.[524]

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed that the leadership of the Coordination Council did not want to reduce ties with Russia and instead hoped to continue with good bilateral relationships between the two countries.[525]

On 17 September 2020, the European Parliament recognised the coordination council as the "interim representation of the people" of Belarus.[526]

Deaths

Rally in memory of Alexander Taraikovsky on 15 August
Makeshift board with photographs and a drawing of hanged OMON forces on the same day

On 10 August, a protester, Alexander Taraikovsky, died near Pushkinskaya metro station. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the protester tried to throw an explosive device at the government troopers and it exploded in his arms.[527][528][529] However, some doubts in the circumstances of the death of the 34-year-old man were expressed.[528] It was reported that a massive blood loss due to an open chest wound was recorded in a death certificate.[530] A video was published on 15 August that shows the protester empty handed and getting shot by the policemen.[531] On 15 August, the Associated Press published a single frame from a video made on 10 August. It showed a man in a white shirt that looks similar to Taraikovsky and is staggering unsteadily with a big red spot on his chest (presumably blood).[532][533][534] No further commentary from the Ministry of Internal Affairs followed, however, according to the Belarusian Investigative Committee, as of 15 August 2020, the circumstances of the Taraikovsky's death were under investigation.[527] Elena German, the wife of Taraikovsky, saw the body in the morgue and reported that there were no injuries to his hands, but there was a small hole in his chest, consistent with a bullet hole.[163] On 15 August, thousands of people gathered at the funeral in Minsk.[530][535]

On 12 August, a 25-year-old man named Alexander Vikhor died in Gomel. He is believed to have had a heart-related disease. According to preliminary information, he died because of waiting in a security forces detainee van for many hours in hot weather. He was in the van because the city's temporary detention centres were overcrowded. He was sentenced to 10 days in prison but wasn't given proper medical attention in time.[134][536][537][61]

29-year-old Konstantin Shishmakov (Belarussian: Kanstantsin Shyshmakou), director of the Bagration Military History Museum in Vawkavysk, disappeared on 15 August. As a member of the election commission, he refused to sign the protocols, called his wife at about 5 pm and said: "I will not work here anymore, I am going home." But he never came home. Later he was found dead in a river. This was announced by the search and rescue squad "Angel".[538][539]

On 17 August, the human rights advocates from the Belarusian education and social association "Zvyano" ("Link") issued a report, which said that at least five people had been murdered during the protests, and seven people were in critical medical condition.[540][541]

On 19 August 43-year-old Gennady Shutov died in the Minsk military hospital after he had received a gunshot to his head during the 11 August protests in Brest; reportedly, the shot was fired by the police.[542][543]

Human rights abuses

According to numerous publications citing witnesses and victims of the police actions, the suppression of the 2020 Belarusian protests was accompanied by extreme police violence and systematic violation of human rights at all stages of the detention process.[148][149][150][151][152][153][154][155]

On 14 August, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) issued a statement which condemned the arbitrary detainment and torture of hundreds if not thousands of protesters across Belarus following the election. According to the statement, such actions suggested crimes against humanity. The statement also called for an unbiased worldwide investigation into the "systematic and extremely violent oppression" of peaceful protests in Belarus.[544]

On 19 August, the classification of these events as crimes against humanity, in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, was supported in a Human Rights Foundation (HRF) statement. According to the statement, HRF identified fifteen persons from the Belarusian state apparatus who were responsible for the arbitrary detention, beating and torture of thousands of peaceful protesters. Letters informing these persons of imminent criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity were sent to each of them on 17 August.[545]

On 17 August, the human rights advocates from the Belarusian education and social association "Zvyano" ("Link") issued the "Report on the violation of human rights of the participants in the protests in Belarus from 7 to 14 August 2020", based on interviews with 30 victims of the police abuse, as well as on interviews with doctors of several Minsk hospitals. Some of the cases were supported by audio or video evidence.[541] On that same day, a statement to the Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus with request to perform an investigation of the police' actions on the basis of 16 articles of Criminal Code of Belarus, including murder, torture and rape, was issued by Viktar Babaryka's electoral campaign manager, Maria Kolesnikova.[546]

The numerous human rights violations were confirmed and condemned by a number of former or current Belarusian police officers, such as Sergei Mikhasev, former employee of the Vitebsk police department, who was detained along with other protesters and spent several days in a detention centre in inhuman conditions,[547] or Yuri Makhnach, a police officer from Lida, who said that the authorities had prepared them for a war against their own people.[548]

In a 20 August statement by the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, it was underlined that the USA supported international efforts to look independently into Belarus’ electoral irregularities, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that had followed.[524]

In a 21 August statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it was noted that, despite the majority of the detainees being released, serious concerns remained about the eight missing protesters and the sixty accused of serious criminal acts. The statement underlined the lack of information about the detainees' status and called for the government to stop unlawfully detaining people. The Commissioner also confirmed that there had been four deaths and were greatly concerned about allegations of large-scale torture and ill-treatment of people, including journalists and children.[549]

On 1 September, in a statement by the UN human rights experts, more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees were mentioned, including sexual abuse and rape with rubber batons of women and children.[74]

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus rejected allegations of abuse and torture of citizens detained during the protests.[550] However, the beatings of the detainees, including at Okrestina, were recognized by Alexander Lukashenko himself.[551][552]

Accounts of witnesses and victims

According to Maxim Solopov, special correspondent of Meduza, who was detained during the 10 August protest and spent two days in the Okrestina detention centre, the detainees were ordered to kneel with their hands behind their heads and put their heads on the ground; then, they were continuously beaten by the staff for hours before being put into the cells. The male detainees were ordered to completely undress while laying on the ground, and, on several occasions, loud explosions were heard by Solopov; he believed these could have been detonations of flash-bang grenades. According to Solopov, the tile floor in the detention centre was completely covered with blood, and screams of the beaten detainees could be heard during all his stay there. Solopov also reported that the cell where he and other detainees stayed (45 people in total) had an area of approximately 8 square meters and lacked proper ventilation. On one occasion, 35 female detainees from the cell next to Solopov's, after they screamed to the staff they were suffocating, had dirty water (left from washing the floor) poured over them and threatened that feces would be thrown over them if the screaming did not stop.[553]

According to a Tut.by publication citing various police violence victims and witnesses, the detainees were repeatedly beaten and humiliated by the police and, on many occasions, were refused medical help even if they had open wounds and traumatic brain injuries. Victims reported that detainees were ordered to do squats and had their legs beaten if they failed to fully comply with the order. One of the detainees had a flash-bang grenade put in his underwear, and the police officers who did it threatened him to pull the safety pin and make it look as if the man died from the detonation of a self-made explosive device, mentioning that they "will not have to answer for that". According to a witness, a person suffering from an asthma attack had a foot put on his throat and threatened to be killed without any negative consequences for the police officers involved. The detainees' smartphones were taken by the police officers, and if the detainees refused to tell the unlocking password, they were severely beaten up until they gave the password. According to a witness, a male detainee was undressed by the police and threatened to be raped with a truncheon if he refused to give the unlocking password. Female detainees who attempted to help others by telling the police officers about the grave condition of their inmates were brutally dragged by their hair, had their hair cut, and were threatened to be gang-raped should they persist. Other victims reported that the detainees were repeatedly tortured with tear gas and electrocution and, on some occasions, were used as a furniture while standing on their knees, with their heads on the ground.[554]

In a Tut.by interview with the hospitalized police violence victims, it was reported that some of them had been beaten by eight to ten fully equipped police officers at once, while being ordered to lay down and keep their hands behind their heads. Such beatings could last for hours and were accompanied by humiliating acts such as cutting the detainees' hair and ordering them to eat it. The beaten detainees were constantly asked by the police officers who their coordinators were and who had paid them to attend the protest. Some detainees had their underwear torn apart and had truncheons put closely to their rectal area while being beaten and receiving rape threats. According to one of the former detainees, he was beaten to a point where he could not react to the reality anymore and, after it was noticed by the police officers, he was thrown on the concrete floor and repeatedly spilled with cold water, after which he lost consciousness and woke up in a hospital. The former detainees report they were ordered to say they loved OMON (Russian: ОМОН – Отряд Милиции Особого Назначения; Special Purpose Police Unit) and were forced to sing the state anthem of Belarus, while the female detainees were constantly threatened with rape. According to one of the former detainees, a detained female medical volunteer was not beaten but was repeatedly insulted by the police officers until she started crying. If "suspicious" items (such as resin gloves, respirators, knives of any size or even barrettes) were found in the detainees' personal belongings, they were beaten even harder, as they were considered by the police to be the "organizers" and "coordinators" of the protest. According to witness' reports, some people arriving in the detention centre showed signs of severe rubber bullet wounds on their heads and necks and had to be quickly transported to the military hospital or, if their condition was critical, to the closest civilian hospital. Meanwhile, some of the OMON officers present there were beating even the severely wounded detainees, while screaming and threatening the doctors who tried to help them. On several occasions, doctors were refused their requests to release the detainees in grave condition. According to one of the former detainees, when he was released from a detention centre and sent to a hospital, the ambulance that transported him had its tires perforated by unknown men in cars with tinted glass.[555]

According to a Tut.by publication citing an anonymous medical worker of the Minsk military hospital, about 60 patients with gunshot wounds were brought to the hospital on 9 and 10 August, several of them requiring assisted ventilation. One of the patients, a 60-year-old man, related that as he was walking through a crowd of protesters, the police arrived and the crowd started to disperse; as he could not run due to his age, he decided to surrender and raised his arms up. Shortly after that, he received a point-blank shot in his torso. The youngest of the hospitalized detainees was a 16-year-old boy in critical condition: the riot police had thrown an unidentified explosive device under his feet, rendering one of his thighs completely shattered. According to the medical worker, many of the patients brought to the military hospital had severe torso and chest penetrating traumas.[556]

According to Naviny.by journalist Alyona Shcherbinskaya, who was detained on 10 August and spent three days in the Okrestina detention centre, the female detainees were subjected there to repeated beating and humiliation by the female staff. Shcherbinskaya reports that a staff member by the name Kristina was among the most vicious ones there: she constantly insulted the detained women, forced them to bend forward and punched them in the stomach, forced them do squats naked and, at some point, "took insoles out of detainees' boots". The female detainees experiencing menstruation were ordered by her to throw away their sanitary napkins, which was justified by the "need to make sure there was nothing forbidden underneath". One of the detained women tore apart her coat and gave the cloth pieces to the inmates in need of a sanitary napkin replacement. However, the pieces didn't last for long and soon had to be replaced with toilet paper, which they ran out of shortly afterwards. According to Shcherbinskaya, the female detainees were taken out of their cells a few times per day and were forced to stay in line along the wall with their legs widely spread, and if the legs weren't considered to be spread wide enough by the staff, the women were punched in the groin area, including the ones on their period, which caused their sanitary napkin replacements to fall off. At the time of Shcherbinskaya's trial, which happened right in the detention centre, she was viciously beat up by Kristina after refusing to sign a falsified detention protocol. Also, Shcherbitskaya recalls that at some point she was taken to a corridor with naked men on their knees, foreheads on the wall and their hands tied behind their backs. The corridor was covered with blood, the male detainees were groaning, and the staff was screaming very loudly.[557]

In an interview to Naviny.by, a former Okrestina detainee reported that at some point an extremely violent beating of a woman was heard through a whole night. According to him, some people were dying inside the cells after the violent beatings, while all requests for medical help from their inmates were getting ignored by the Okrestina staff. On rare occasions, when medics were allowed to examine the suffering detainees and asked for permission to transport them to hospitals, they were refused to do so by OMON officers, who said "Let them die". The same applied to the people with diabetes. On several occasions, the detainees' smartphones were taken away and smashed into their heads. The detainees who refused to provide the unlocking passwords, were tortured by tear gas and had their fingers broken until the password was given. According to the former detainee, around 124 people were kept in a 30 square meters cell, which forced them to stay for up to 24 hours, while they were refused any water for 15 hours. He also noted that no inventorization was carried out during detainees' acceptance to the detention centre, which means their personal belongings, including money, could have been stolen. Some detainees were noticed to walk out of Okrestina without their shoes.[558]

According to the staff of the Minsk Clinical Emergency Hospital, most of the hospitalized protesters suffered from gunshot wounds and blast injuries, with the most severe cases involving amputations of the traumatized limbs. The detainees transported to the hospital from the Okrestina detention centre were diagnosed with closed-head injuries, concussions, and severe head and torso bruises. In some cases, severe arm fractures were registered, which, according to the medics, looked as if they had been made on purpose. Some of the hospitalized male detainees were diagnosed with rectal fractures.[559]

On 11 August, Artyom Vazhenkov and Igor Rogov, members of the Open Russia organization who had come to Minsk to monitor the election, were detained by the police and brought to the Okrestina detention centre. In his interview to Radio Free Europe, entitled "We are re-educating you scum!", Vazhenkov related the numerous abuses to which he and the other detainees, some of them underage, were subjected by the detention centre's staff. Vazhenkov reported that each time the detainees asked for food or water or said they needed to go to the bathroom, they were met with verbal and physical aggression on the part of the centre's staff. The detainees were humiliated by being forced to undress to their underwear and stay in this condition both in the cell and during the trials, which were performed directly in the detention centre.[560]

According to one of the former Okrestina detainees, shortly after the detention, people had their clothes cut (including, in some cases, the underwear) and were numerically marked with a marker pen by the police, after which they were only referenced to by their assigned numbers. Some of the police officers involved made drawings on the detainees' bodies.[561][562]

In a Current Time TV video, entitled "They Treated Me Like An Animal", several released Belarusian detainees provided personal accounts of police abuse, which involved gang-rape and kill threats, severe beatings, tortures with cold water, food and water denial for more than 48 hours and forcing to sign a detention protocol under threats of torture.[563]

According to a 16-years-old former detainee, who had to be hospitalized in a state of induced coma after he was severely beaten and tortured by electrocution, the detainees were ordered to sing the anthem of OMON and, if they refused, they had truncheon hammered in their throats, and, on one occasion, a detainee was anally raped with a truncheon.[564]

A former detainee who was initially transported to the Savyetski District RUVD (Russian: РУВД – Районное Управление Внутренних Дел; District Department of Internal Affairs) reported that around 80 people were lined along a wall there and were forced to stay for 24 hours with their hands behind their heads, including the ones with broken hands, who were refused medical attention. According to him, the detainees were beaten there and threatened by police officers with execution by shooting, which they claimed they had direct orders to perform, and were allowed to sit only during a night for a total of 15 minutes. According to another former detainee who was initially transported to the Partyzanski District RUVD, the detainees there (around 30 in total) were severely beaten, taken to a basement and ordered to sing the anthem of Belarus on multiple occasions. A female former detainee who was transported to the Maskowski District RUVD reported that during the early stages of detention she was repeatedly beaten, accused of being a "protest coordinator" and demanded to name the people who paid her. In the RUVD, she was taken to a hall where the floor was covered with blood and vomit, was ordered to lay down and threatened to have her dreadlocks cut off. During interrogation by 7 police officers, she was demanded to tell who paid her for the subversion and at some point was knocked out of a chair, ordered to lay down and was beaten with truncheons each time her answers weren't considered satisfactory. After the interrogation, she was taken to a hall with about 40 or more detainees and had her clothes marked with an aerosol paint, which, as she learned later, was a message to other police officers meaning she was one of the most active protesters. In the Okrestina detention centre, she, along with other 35–40 women, was put in a four-people cell where she spent another 3 days. Another female former detainee reported that at some point she was taken to a six-people cell with 50 other detainees who were refused food and had no access to clean water. During her last night there, the Okrestina staff knocked on the cell door once in an hour, preventing the detainees from sleeping. The detainees there were nearly suffocating and restrained from talking in order to preserve as much oxygen as possible. When she was transported to a detention centre in Zhodzina, she received food for the first time in three days and heard local staff referring to Okrestina as Auschwitz concentration camp. Another female former detainee from Okrestina, who was arrested by 10 OMON officers as an independent observer during the elections and was put in a four-people cell with 35 other women, reported that all the detainees' requests for more air were met with an opened door and a splash of water. The detainees there were constantly humiliated and refused means of personal hygiene, such as sanitary napkins. During the night, when male detainees were taken out of their cells, she heard sounds of severe beatings and screams, and, in the morning, saw the corridor walls of the Okrestina covered with blood.[565]

Sergei Dylevsky, a steel worker at the Minsk Tractor Works who helped take protesters released from detention to a hospital, recalled that one of them had lost an eye after being beaten at the facility. This evidence angered Dylevsky and led to his joining the Coordination Council.[566]

Attacks on journalists and censorship

During the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, the cases of attacks increased. On 23 July Lukashenko during a meeting with the leaders of the country's economic bloc, his main concern was that the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had encouraged riots while streaming protests and threatened to expel media and ban them from reporting on the election.[567]

On 9–11 August, several independent journalists were arrested in Minsk, Brest, and Babruysk.[122] According to a statement by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, on 10 August, internal troops and other government forces deliberately shot rubber bullets at independent journalists in Minsk (including Tut.by and Nasha Niva). The journalists wore special high visibility jackets and had personal IDs. Nasha Niva editor-in-chief (also wearing a jacket) disappeared during the night. He managed to send an SOS SMS message to his wife, saying he was arrested. His fate was unknown as of 13:30 local time, and the Nasha Niva website was not updated for many hours after his presumed arrest.[568] Several journalists, including foreigners, were slightly injured during the suppression of the protests. A rubber bullet hit the plastic ID of Getty Images' photojournalist Michal Fridman. Several Russian journalists from both official media and Internet projects were arrested but soon released.[569]

On 10 August, local journalists reported problems with all major communication platforms and pro-opposition websites.[106]

On 11 August, it was reported that police officers and other government agents forcibly took away memory cards from many journalists' devices. They also forced them to delete photos or sometimes crushed their cameras.[129] BBC News Russia reported that three of its journalists were beaten by the government forces that night while covering the protests.[570] Russian journalist Nikita Telizhenko was heavily beaten in Belarusian jail: he was arrested in Minsk and sent to Zhodzina because of jails' overcrowding in Minsk. In Zhodzina he was beaten on his kidneys, legs, and neck, but he was soon released at the Russian embassy's request.[571] Arrested Russian journalist Artyom Vazhenkov was reported to be accused of mass rioting (up to 15 years of prison in Belarus).[572]

On 12 August, Belsat journalist Jauhien Merkis was arrested in Gomel while covering the protests. Even though he was there as a journalist, the next day, the local court sentenced him to 15 days in jail for "participation in an unauthorized mass event".[573] He was liberated soon, but on 21 August he was arrested again and was given 5 days in jail.[574] Journalist Ruslan Kulevich from Grodno, arrested on 11 August, was freed on 14 August with fractures of both hands.[575]

One of the few communication systems that managed to avoid censorship is the independent Belarusian-owned NEXTA [ru] Telegram channel based in Warsaw. The channel's subscribers rose from 100,000 on election night to over a million after a day.[576] The channel publishes user-generated videos, photos, and comments of the protests.[577] The founder of NEXTA himself is facing up to 15 years of prison after being indicted by the regime.[578] The use of Telegram software is helping the protesters by providing much needed communications. NEXTA Live's audience shot to over 2 million. Its sister channel NEXTA has more than 700,000 followers. Belarus of the Brain's is now over 470,000. Officials opened a criminal probe into Stepan Putilo, founder of NEXTA, on charges of fomenting mass riots.[579] Igor Losik, who founded Belarus of the Brain, was arrested before the election, but the channel also continues to operate.[579]

On 15 August, a meeting was held with the head of the upper chamber of Parliament of Belarus Natalia Kochanova and press Secretary of the President of Belarus Natalia Eismont. The audience, the workers at the Belarusian TV and radio company in Minsk, asked why the station was not broadcasting the truth. The officials had been escorted to the building by riot police who took control of the building.[580] Thousands of protesters outside demanded the station show people the truth. It was also reported that some staff had resigned and one hundred were planning to strike on Monday.[581][582]

It was reported that on 18 June, reporters from various countries, arriving in Minsk airport, were pulled out of passport control, interrogated and locked up before being refused entry and being told to buy a plane ticket to some other country, in an attempt to suppress the media.[583]

On 21 August 72 or 73 websites were blocked in Belarus, including several independent news portals (Radio Liberty/Free Europe in Belarus svaboda.org, by.tribuna.com sport news, euroradio.fm, belsat.eu, gazetaby.com, the-village.me/news and others), electoral sites of Tsepkalo and Babaryko, "Golos" and "Zubr" platforms, spring96.org human rights portal, and several VPN services.[584][585][586]

As of 21 August, the Belarusian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper failed to print three editions, and Narodnaja Volya failed to print a newspaper edition (both newspapers had a contract with the government-controlled printing house). The Belarusian Association of Journalists stated that the real cause was not technical troubles, but an attempt to block information about the protests and violations of human rights.[587] Two other independent newspapers (Belgazeta and Svobodnye Novosti) also were unable to print new editions in Belarus.[588] New editions of Komsomolskaya Pravda and Narodnaja Volya were printed in Russia, but the state network of newsstands "Belsoyuzpechat'" denied to take them for sale. These newspapers also reported that the post service delayed the delivery by subscription.[589]

On 27 August, around 20 journalists, from both local and international media, were detained on Freedom Square in Minsk.[590][327][328] The journalists were taken to the Kastrychnitski district police supposedly to check their identity and accreditation.[591]

On 29 August, accreditation of several foreign journalists was revoked; they worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, BBC, ARD, Radio France Internationale, Deutsche Welle and Current Time TV. It was reported that some of them (including Paul Hansen) were deported from Belarus.[592] Independent news web sites naviny.by (46th most popular site in Belarus[593]) and nn.by (Nasha Niva; 58th most popular site in Belarus[594]) were blocked in Belarus.[595]

On 1 September, 6 Belarusian journalists who covered the protest march of students in Minsk were detained. Initially they were taken to the police office to check the documents, but later they were charged with "participation in an unauthorized mass event" and coordination of the protests.[596][597]

International reactions

International reactions to Lukashenko's re-election
  Belarus
  Congratulated Lukashenko
  Not recognised result or expressed concern or criticism
  No reaction

Countries and organisations have voiced their opinions with some accepting and some rejecting the election result. Many have commented about the protests with more condemning the violence.

  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on 14 August announced that the EU would bring in sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for "violence and falsification".[5][598] Charles Michel, President of the European Council went further on 19 August saying the EU would soon impose sanctions on a “substantial number” of individuals responsible for violence, repression, and election fraud.[221] The European Commission announced it would divert €53 million earmarked for Belarus away from the government and towards civil society, victims of the state crackdown on protesters and the country's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.[222][599][600]
  • On 18 August 2020, the Lithuanian parliament agreed to impose economic sanctions.[601]
  • On 19 August 2020, the Prime Minister of Slovakia stated that the Government of Slovakia introduced sanctions against Belarus in the new legislative session.[602]
  • On 10 September 2020, the EU sanctions on Belarus were delayed by a

    According to Russia's press service statement issued on 19 August 2020, "Russia pointed out that foreign attempts to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs were unacceptable and could further escalate tensions".[605] As Georgy Saralidze, advisor to the director of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company on program policy, noted in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that western countries had been striving to isolate Belarus away from Russia for several years. "The main goal is to prevent the expansion of the Union State, and ideally just to destroy it. What Vladimir Putin said to Merkel and Macron is a very symptomatic thing, because now there are attacks that Russia allegedly interferes in the affairs of Belarus. Moreover, there are no statements on the part of Russia, apart from the recognition of the election results. If you call it interference, then those who do not recognize the election also interfere in the affairs of Belarus."[606]

    Lukashenko announced a week after the election that NATO forces were "at the gates" and threatening the country (which was denied by NATO[607]), prompting President Putin to offer to send in military assistance,[176] A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on 19 August said that there was no need for Russia to help Belarus militarily or otherwise at present.[223] Belarus and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states,[608] and part of a Belarus–Russia Union State.[35][609] President of the European Council Charles Michel spoke on 19 August about interference in Belarus, ”It’s important for both the EU and Russia to support the democratic process in Belarus. We want to avoid external interference in Belarus.” He added that he had read recent statements from Kremlin that it does not intend to interfere militarily.[610]

Support for victims

Unregistered candidate Valery Tsepkalo created a non-profit organization "Belarus of the future". The primary goal of the program is to support citizens of Belarus who have suffered from political repression. Tsepkalo was not the first who started supporting them. Before him, people were self-organizing the funds with the same concept to support victims of oppression in Belarus, paying for received fines they received during the protests.[611]

Mikita Mikado, the CEO of PandaDoc, which has Belarusian roots, offered to support authorities (police officers, army and security forces) that want to retire, but cannot because for financial reasons.[612][613] The CEO is planning to resign based on the latest events. He had published a video and asked to contact him directly to get full support.[612]

Alexander Shneerson, the CEO of ISSoft, announced "The Belarusian society has invested a lot in the IT industry. We are part of the people of Belarus and we believe that the time has come for IT specialists to support those who suffered during the peaceful protests."[614]

The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on 14 August an €11 million fund to help protesters get visas and settle in Poland. Poland would provide support for Belarusian independent media and non-governmental organisations and scholarships would also be available to Belarusian students in Poland.[598] Lithuania offered medical assistance to injured protesters.[598]

On 19 August the EU promised €2 million to assist the victims of state violence and €1 million to support independent media as part of a €53 million package to support a peaceful transition.[600]

Mikhail Orda, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, called for law officers to investigate every case of violence in a detailed and objective manner, adding that the Trade Unions were willing to provide legal assistance to all victims.[615]

Symbols

Protesters are waving the flags of the European Union and red-and-white flags (the official Belarusian flag from 1991 to 1995) during a rally against Lukashenko.

The red-and-white flag, the official flag of independent Belarus from 1991 to 1995, has been adopted by the pro-democracy opposition, becoming a powerful symbol. De facto banned by the authorities, the flag has been frequently confiscated by the police at demonstrations[6] and become a symbol for everyone who actively opposes Lukashenko.[8] Other symbols used by opposition supporters include the former coat of arms of Belarus, known as the Pahonia (the historical coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania),[616] and the song Vajacki marš,[617] which was the national anthem of the short-lived Belarusian People's Republic and the traditional folk song Pahonia.[618][619] A common slogan used by protesters is the phrase Long Live Belarus! (Жыве Беларусь!, romanised: Žyvie Biełaruś!).[620][621] Anti-Lukashenko protesters have also used the current state flag of Belarus on rare occasions.[622] In a few isolated cases anti-Lukashenko demonstrators have used the flag of Europe.[623]

The current state flag of Belarus has been universally used at demonstrations in support of Alexander Lukashenko.[624][625] In a few isolated cases pro-Lukashenko demonstrators have used the flag of Russia, the Banner of Victory against Nazi Germany, the flag of the Soviet Union and the Ribbon of Saint George.[626][625][627]

Gallery

See also