Long-time President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenka, who has held the country’s top elected post since 1994, claimed yet another land-slide victory in the presidential election that took place on August 9. His claim of a victory with 80 percent of the vote is disputed by hundreds of thousands of Belarusian citizens, many of whom took to the streets in protest saying that the results were falsified. Government forces responded swiftly and brutally to the protests, beating, arresting, and detaining protesters, journalists, and members of the opposition by the thousands. At least four protesters were killed.
After the election, two of Belarus’ opposition leaders fled the country, including leading opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for the presidency after her husband Sergei, a political blogger, was jailed and barred from the presidential race.
The protests continue in many of Belarus’ cities. Over 100,000 protesters rallied in Minsk on August 16, an unprecedented turn-out in Belarus. A number of protesters are part of “the Women in White” campaign, who have taken to the streets to protest the violent crackdown and call for the release of loved ones detained by police.
The women, dressed in white and often carrying flowers, began appearing last week in Minsk but similar protests have also taken place in Germany, Poland, Belgium, Ukraine, and Russia.
It is clear from the response of the Belarusian people to the disputed election that they are yearning for something that Alexander Lukashenka has not afforded them in the two and a half decades he has held power. The international community has heard the call of the Belarusian people and stands with them in their democratic aspirations.
The United States, as well as European leaders, have expressed deep concern over the conduct of the election in Belarus, noting it was neither free nor fair, as well as the government’s violent response to the subsequent protests, the apparent targeting of journalists, the severe abuses against detainees, and the internet blackout.
During his recent visit to Poland, Secretary of State Pompeo said, “The common objective is to support the Belarusian people to achieve their own sovereignty, their own freedom, to build out what you’re seeing happen in these protests. These people are demanding the simple things that every human being wants: the right to have determination for themselves the nature of their government. And so we urge the leadership of Belarus to broaden the circle, to engage with civil society in a way that reflects the central understandings that the Belarusian people are demanding.”