Belarusians protesting against their government’s proposed "tax on spongers" have been forcefully detained by men in civilian dress, social and local media appears to show.
Men wearing dark hats and coats were seen dragging people into minibuses without number plates on Wednesday evening, according to videos published on Twitter and by Radio Svoboda, a media organisation funded by the US State Department.
— Алексей Кириленко (@Kirilenko_a) March 15, 2017
Twitter users claim that the men carrying out the violence are policemen not wearing uniform.
It is unclear whether the people being assaulted participated in the sanctioned protests, which were attended by 2,000 people in Minsk and hundreds more in other towns, according to Radio Svoboda.
In one video filmed from inside a bus, passengers try to stop a man from being manhandled and pulled off.
It has been reported that 160 people have been detained since the start of March.
Вот опять Минск. Милиция обнаглела, что хапает всех без формы в машины без номеров С РАЗРЕШЁННОЙ АКЦИИ. Это же бандитизм
Люди заступаются pic.twitter.com/P5M2HNtKOo
— РБ головного мозга (@belamova) March 16, 2017
Despite the alleged clamp down on peaceful protesters, President Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, said on Thursday that “Belarus is a European country. And here there are human rights, rule of law and democracy just like in Europe.”
Belarus has seen a series of demonstrations since February, when hundreds of thousands of Belarusians received a tax bill of $245 for being classified as "social parasites" under a presidential decree ‘On the Prevention of Social Dependency’.
— Вольная рэдакцыя (@svabodka) March 15, 2017
The decree targets citizens who have not worked in the past six months and not paid tax. Penalties for not paying the tax include compulsory community service, which Amnesty International believes may amount to forced labour.
The average monthly salary in Belarus is around $380.
Mr Lukashenko last week bowed to public pressure and delayed this year’s tax until next year. But protesters, who claim the jobless tax is unconstitutional, are calling for the measure to be abolished.
More protests are planned for later this month.