Hundreds rally in Belarus to help ‘political prisoners’
Nexta, a video critic of the Telegram, says government officials have filed more than 250 lawsuits against former President Lukashenko, activists, bloggers, and Belarusians.
Belarusian members hold a large red-red flag in Belarus on October 4, 2020 at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, demanding the right of freedom fighters to protest. (AFP)
Belarusians have taken to the streets to support former Soviet Union political prisoners and controversial elections, with recent visits a week after Brussels and Washington imposed sanctions on the powerful Alexander Alexander.
Belarus police say on Sunday they used a water cannon to disperse the protesters and set up several prisons.
“Water targets have been used in Minsk,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP.
“There are prisoners,” he added, without elaborating.
In the wake of the recent protests, which began at 1100 GMT, Telegram’s most controversial channel, Nexta Live, which connected protesters with more than two million people, urged Belarussians to take action in support of “political prisoners.”
Nexta said the authorities had opened more than 250 lawsuits against Lukashenko’s candidates, activists, bloggers and Belarusians.
“The authorities have taken the people,” he said.
“We have not forgotten them and we want freedom for all political prisoners!”
READ MORE: Tens of thousands march against Lukashenko in Belarus, many of them arrested
Many ‘political prisoners’
Opposition groups calling for an end to Lukashenko’s rule have been on high alert since he won the election on August 9, with about 100,000 or more people marching in the streets every Sunday.
Russia has backed its former ally Lukashenko, giving him money and promising him military aid in the event of a revolt.
According to the Viasna liberation movement, there are now 77 “political prisoners” in Belarus, including opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who is not allowed to represent the president, as well as opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who tore up her passport to prevent him from being deported.
READ MORE: Opposition leader Tikhanovskaya is pushing for new elections in Belarus in 2020
The list also includes Vitali Shkliarov, a Belarusian-US academic, who has served as US President Senator Bernie Sanders and advised Russian opponents.
He was arrested in late July after visiting his elderly parents.
On Friday, the United States and the EU hit Belarus with long-awaited sanctions for vote-rigging and plotting to favor the opposition, following officials – but Lukashenko himself.
Minsk zealously declared “opposition” to the EU, although it was not immediately clear what form these would take.
Earlier this week Belarusian authorities withdrew the recognition of all foreign journalists.
‘Signs of Help’
In recent weeks, the Interior Ministry has used water cannons, stunts, and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters and arrested thousands of people, many of whom complain of torture and ill-treatment.
Several people have died in the process.
After blogger Tikhanovsky, his wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rushed to his place and claimed victory over Lukashenko.
After hiding a EU member from Lithuania, the 38-year-old political leader has been holding talks to bolster Belarus’s opposition allies.
READ MORE: Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.
He has already met with French President Emmanuel Macron and will travel to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday.
‘Start conversations with Lukashenko’
Student Dmitry Demeshkevich, who wanted to take to the streets on Sunday, said he was aware of the sanctions and Tikhanovskaya’s upcoming talks with Merkel.
He also said the sanctions were a sign of support but “nothing else” as it is not known if Western methods combined with travel restrictions would work.
“It’s best to start a conversation with Lukashenko about his release,” he said.
“Europe may be a mediator but it is up to us to make him stop.”
Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet Union for 26 years, has criticized Western and NATO allies for supporting the protesters and trying to destabilize the country.
He warned the military after voting and Belarus this month will hold hostilities with several other former Soviet states including Russia in what is being described as a protest against NATO.