Belarus: Video close-up of police crackdown

In December 2010, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected after a fraud-ridden ballot. Lukashenko, head of state since 1994, topped the poll with almost 80 percent of the votes. Demonstrations that took place in the country subsequently were violently put down. The pro-democracy movement was silenced but new life was breathed into it in summer 2011. For about 10 weeks, peaceful demonstrations were held every Wednesday in the main towns and cities. Opposition rallies were banned but Belarusians demonstrated their creativity by using a variety of pretexts for the gatherings, such as attending open- air concerts.

Banned from using slogans and banners, they expressed their discontent with ironic clapping. But this ruse was also soon banned. Journalists and bloggers covering the events were regularly arrested and ill-treated, and their equipment seized or damaged. Reporters Without Borders provides regular updates in real time of these events on its website.

The video presented here was made by a reporter with the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) during a demonstration on Independence Day, 3 July 2011. While she was filming the police making arrests, her camera was snatched from her hands by an officer. She got it back later and, in the confusion, the officer had failed to switch it off.

The video gives us a close-up view of the police crackdown on the demonstration. The officers, who were in plain clothes, behaved so brutally that the protesters called for help ... from the police. The enforcement officers were highly organized – they can be heard co-ordinating their actions, receiving orders to “crush” the protest and calling for reinforcements to deal with passive resistance by the demonstrators.

The journalist calls forcefully for the return of her video camera and demonstrators can be heard protesting at the detention of a child. By the end of the rally, more than 400 people had been arrested, including more than 15 journalists.

During 2011 alone, Reporters Without Borders recorded the arrests of more than 100 journalists and bloggers, and 34 prison convictions. Belarus, which lies next door to the European Union, is ranked 168th of 179 countries in the 2011/2012 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the organization.


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