Four presidents call on Belarus to change course

The Presidents of Poland and the three Baltic States; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have issued a joint appeal to the Belarusian authorities to stop the use of force, free those held and to initiate dialogue with the people in a round table format.

The Belarusians are protesting against the falsification of the election result. The demonstrations began when the authorities announced an exit poll showing Lukashenko to have won clearly with almost 80 percent of the vote. In the last three days over 6,000 have been arrested.

President Andrzej Duda’s chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski said that the presidents of the four countries have declared a willingness to act as mediators. He added that the presidents were united in the conviction that “dialogue can lead to the development, security and social cohesion of Belarus in order to create a democratic and free country as part of Europe.”

According to the Polish Press Agency (PAP) the four presidents’ statement, issued on Thursday, expressed the desire to see Belarus as a stable, democratic, independent and prosperous state. It goes on to call for the “de-escalation of tension and immediate abandoning of the use of force. We call for the end of the use of force and for respect for fundamental liberties and human rights of free speech, free media, freedom of assembly and safety of journalists. “

The statement also calls on the Belarusian authorities to release all those arrested for political protests and cease persecuting demonstrators . Its call for dialogue is based on the experience of the four nations. “Based on the experience of our societies we call for the organisation of a round table to reconcile civil society with representatives of the government. “

They conclude by stating that “ if the Belarusian authorities can meet these recommendations the door to cooperation with the international community remains open. Isolation is not the way to prosperity or development of any nation.”

Unprecedented repression

The wave of protests sweeping Belarus are unprecedented as regards the number of those arrested and beaten and the demonstrations are spreading to small towns, reports Alesh Bialacki, the director of the human rights watchdog “Viasna.”

“We have never had these numbers of arrests and beatings. Two have died and another is in critical condition because of a plastic round hitting him in the head. Over 200 are in hospital but an even greater number are injured yet fearful of going to hospital for fear of what the police will do with their data.”

According to the head of “Viasna” people are being kept in prison in dreadful conditions and some are beaten and tortured. “People are being packed in cells in which they have to stand and cannot sleep as there is nowhere to sit down.” He believes that the authorities are acting in this way to frighten people and break down their will to protest.

Bialacki also observed that apart from police brutality another major feature is the geography of the protests. “The demos are taking place in small towns, practically all over Belarus. That has not happened since the 1980s when the USSR was disintegrating. In the last few decades protests have taken place in the largest cities: Minsk, Grodno, Brest, Vitebsk and Homl.”

The human rights monitor has also reported that this time round there is a tendency for the authorities to over-report the numbers of those arrested. “They used to under-report but now they are over-estimating the numbers in order to frighten people with a show of strength and readiness for mass arrests.”