Belarus: Forbidden to speak out, forbidden to gather, forbidden to clap

by Andy Tybout    /  August 2, 2011  / No comments



Protesters in Minsk Detained by Police
Demonstrators and journalists detained by police during July 3rd protests in Minsk. Photo: Still from Al Jazeera English Video

Fed up with conditions in what the western media has called Europe’s last dictatorship, thousands of Belarusians have expressed their discontent in a strikingly unorthodox fashion: clapping.

Beginning this June, hundreds of activists, primarily young people, used various social networking sites to coordinate group applause in open locations. The demonstrations are meant to express disapproval for President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the nation and its 9.5 million people for nearly 17 years. The protests so riled the President that he soon outlawed all public clapping not directed at war veterans; even his July 3rd Independence Day speech ended in silence.

Police routinely intercept these protests, beating participants and hauling them into unmarked buses. Thus far, they have also detained more than a dozen reporters after breaking their equipment at peaceful rallies in Minsk and Brest.

Undaunted, organizers have devised variations on the established demonstration formula — a few weeks ago, protesters were instructed to set their cell phone alarms for 8 p.m. and gather in the same street, producing a unified ring — but as multiple sources have reported, the collective ring was barely audible above the sound of the traffic next to the protest site.

According to Time Magazine, seven opposition leaders were imprisoned after Lukashenko’s fraudulent election victory last December. Following a subway bombing in April, the President also intensified his policing of the Internet, placing several people in isolation for spreading “false rumors” online.

Most recently, while the UN Human Rights Committee was still reviewing their cases, two convicts were executed after allegedly being tortured in a pre-trial investigation. A precarious economic climate, shortages of basic goods, and other national crises ensure that political tensions in Belarus won’t abate any time soon.

Below is a video of police reactions to the protests paired with footage of Lukashenko’s Independence Day celebration.


Video: © Aljazeera English

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