Belarus Freedom Day protests: arrests as hundreds take to streets

Nabihah Parker
Members of police special forces detain a man during a gathering, denouncing the new tax on those not in full-time employment - AP

Hundreds of citizens gathered in Minsk as part of the country's largest street protests to defy the so-called 'social parasite law' taxing the unemployed.

Belarusian police have arrested 400 hundred protesters, including activists and journalists, as part of a major crackdown on demonstrations that oppose this law and the President's 23-year-long dictatorship.

About 700 people had tried to march early on Saturday, known as Freedom Day, but were blocked by police. Protests in several other cities are also being prepared for the 26 March. 

Several journalists covering the events were arrested, including two from Belsat TV and BBC Russian correspondent, Sergey Kozlovsky, who was released after several hours. He told AP: "They grabbed everybody indiscriminately, both young and old. We were treated very harshly." 

Law enforcement officers detain a man during a gathering, denouncing the new tax on those not in full-time employment Credit: AP

One of the country's leading opposition figures, Vladimir Nekliayev, who was expected to speak at the demonstrations, has been detained while making his way to the rally. 

Viasna, a human rights centre, was blocked off by police and arrests made of those involved in the protests. Tatiana Revyako, of the human rights group, told AP that "many of the arrested were beaten and are in need of medical help".

Unemployed citizens and part-time workers oppose the Presidential Decree No.3 "On the Prevention of Social Dependency" that taxes them around $250 (£200) a year.

The decree was received with widespread criticism from citizens, activists and journalists who oppose the law and are critical of the government. 

Mr Lukashenko announced on 9 March that he would suspend the tax until his government had reviewed the policy in response to the protests.

What are the Freedom Day protests?

Andre Sanikov, former Belarusian foreign minister, said: "Tomorrow's protests will be big, very big. People who attend tomorrow have a lot of courage and they are coming because they are fed up. The protest is not about the economic situation but about a dictatorship that has lasted 23 years. 

"There will be fear for protesting openly but it is done peacefully to demand changes. People are hoping for freedom from the dictatorship because the economy and quality of life in Belarus is very poor.  I hope for a parliamentary re-election to end this problem. 

"If there is no resolution, I fear for the future of Belarus as a democratic country but I also fear it will become a hotbed and a dangerous spot in the region."

Saturday marks the 99th anniversary of Belarus Freedom Day that declared the birth of Belarus People's Republic during WWI but is celebrated more recently as an occasion to oppose the rule of current President Alyaksandr Lukashenko.




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