In August 2020 fraudulent elections sparked massive pro-democracy protests in Belarus. Within days some 7000 Belarusians were thrown into prisons. Released protesters reported beatings and torture. Several activists were found dead. The main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled the country. Many governments in the international community have declared the elections to be neither free nor fair and have rejected the result.
Belarusians continued their fight. For the next several weeks thousands would be marching the streets of Belarusian towns on a daily basis. Belarusians chose peaceful ways to protest – sang famous songs and wrote new ones, shared flowers and wore national costumes, created posters and organized artistic performances.
The regime has reacted with unprecedented cruelty. Over the next six months some 40 000 people have been jailed or received fines. Currently, there are 421 political prisoners ranging from bloggers to businessmen, peaceful protesters to presidential election candidates. Some are still awaiting trial, some are already serving terms up to 18 years.
Dozens of court hearings are held every week. People are being arrested for actions like raising a hand with a flower or wearing white and red socks. It is scary to browse the news in the morning – a political prisoner has recently died at the age of 50. Another one has attempted to commit suicide after being tortured in jail. The main news website has been raided and most of its management arrested. A Ryanair plane, flying from Greece to Lithuania, was forced to land so that the authorities could arrest a dissident journalist on board.
Lukashenka has been in power since 1994. During his rule, Belarusians have been gradually stripped of all basic freedoms and human rights. Anyone in Belarus, or flying over Belarus is at risk of being kidnapped by men in black, wearing balaclavas, and no insignia or uniform.