50 People Demonstrate in Minsk Against Political Persecution
About 50 people staged an unauthorized demonstration in Minsk's downtown Kastrychnitskaya Square on December 16 to demand an end to alleged political persecution and commemorate the unsolved disappearances of four opponents of the government.
Braving bitterly cold weather – it was minus-19 Celsius (minus-3 Fahrenheit) – the demonstrators stood in a line along Independence Avenue between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. They displayed signs saying, "No to Political Terror!" and "Kidnappers Must Go to The Hague!" Belarus' historically national white-red-white flags, and images of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasowski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, who mysteriously disappeared in 1999 and 2000. Participants also held images of Artsyom Dubski, Mikalay Awtukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka, who are believed to be political prisoners.
The crowd chanted, "Long Live Belarus!" and "Freedom to Political Prisoners!" in response to a police officer who was warning through a megaphone that the gathering was unsanctioned. No arrests were reported during or after the demonstration.
Participants included prominent opposition politicians Anatol Lyabedzka, Andrey Sannikaw and Vyachaslaw Siwchyk and also young opposition activists Artur Finkevich, Anastasiya Palazhanka and Yawhen Afnahel.
On December 6, Mr. Afnahel, a leader of European Belarus, was bundled into a car at a bus stop and driven to a village some 10 miles east of Minsk.
That was the most recent one in a series of mock kidnappings of opposition youths.
"When the merry-go-round of kidnappings begins to turn, one starts wondering how far this can go," said Mikalay Khalezin, director of Free Theater who was among the demonstrators. "It's better to nip this in the bud by taking to the streets. Then the government becomes a little more sober and fewer people have their fates ruined."
"We're worried about the safety of our families," Mr. Khalezin said. "I have two daughters. I and my father-in-law have recently been attacked near our home. The case was closed even though our injuries are a matter of medical record."
Police did not interfere with the demonstration because the authorities try to "toe the line" between the European Union and Russia, Mr. Khalezin said. "No one knows how to behave," he noted. "Although a decision was made not to break up the demonstration, police prisoner vans were deployed anyway."
While speaking to reporters in late October, Interior Minister Anatol Kulyashow said that police would arrest those participating in unsanctioned street demonstrations. "As a man who stands on guard of law, I consider it necessary to arrest them," Mr. Kulyashow said.
Opposition activists in Belarus and sympathizers throughout the world have been observing a so-called Day of Solidarity on the 16th day of each month since September 16, 2005, the anniversary of the 1999 disappearance of Viktar Hanchar and his friend Anatol Krasowski.
Messrs. Hanchar, Krasowski, Zakharanka and Zavadski are alleged to have been kidnapped and murdered by a government-run death squad.