After marching across the streets in Minsk over the weekend, thousands of women protesting the leadership of President Alexander Lukashenko were arrested by Belarus police.
Since the country’s election on August 9, mass protests, attended mostly by women, have been weekly occurrences in the Belarusian capital of more than 2 million people.
Critics of Lukashenko’s leadership purport that voting was rigged and that opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya should have been rightfully elected. Fearing for her safety, Tikhanovskaya has since taken refuge in Lithuania.
In a statement released before the march, she praised the “brave women of Belarus”, saying “They are marching despite being constantly menaced and put under pressure.”
On Saturday, the city’s riot police dragged hundreds of female protesters into vans. Ambulances were later called after several women complained of feeling ill during their detentions.
A leading figure of the demonstrations, 73-year-old activist Nina Baginskaya, was reportedly detained by police but released soon after.
The Viasna Human Rights Centre, a human rights organisation based in Minsk, published the names of 328 women detained. On Saturday, police spokesperson, Olga Chemodanova said official numbers would be released late Sunday. The latest figures according to the Belarusian interior ministry claim over 400 were arrested in Minsk and 15 other cities on Saturday.
Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994 and believes the protests are being aided by foreign powers. On Monday, Tikhanovskaya is expected to meet with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels for discussions. The EU have been debating the possibility of new sanctions on Lukashenko’s government as the protests head into their seventh week.
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✊’Nina Baginskaya is a legend and a political activist who has become a real mascot of Belarus. Nina is 73 years old and she has been protesting against the current government since 1988. She was detained dozens of times and arrested several times. Nina was constantly fined for something: in 2016, she owed the state more than 16 thousand dollars for participating in ‘unauthorized events’. But Baginskaya never paid these fines. At the same time, she refused to accept financial assistance from human rights organizations, although the government deducted money from her, most likely, small pension.’ ⠀ ‘As long as I have no health problems, I will go to the protests. Because life is movement. And when you stop moving, death comes’, — Nina explains. ⚡Artwork Nadzeya Makeyava @nadzeya_makeyeva 💬 Share artwork, so people from all around the world get to know about the injustice and brutal behaviour with peaceful protesters in Belarus🙏 #highlightbelarus #artistswithbelarus #artforbelarus #bestrong #belarus #nonviolance #fightforjustice #nodictatorship #protest #supportbelarus #artnow #belart #contemporaryart #digitaldrawing #digital #digitalpainting #digitalillustration
To date, only one out of the three female figures leading the opposition movement have not gone into exile -Maria Kolesnikova.
Two weeks ago, she was snatched by unidentified masked men in the streets of Minsk. In the last week, she’s been charged with incitement to undermine national security after allegedly tearing apart her passport when the authorities tried to expel her from the country.
“It was stated that if I did not voluntarily leave the Republic of Belarus, I would be taken out anyway, alive or in bits,” she said in a statement filed by her legal representatives. “There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years.” Both Veronika Tsepkalo and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya have left the country.