On Friday, the Belarusian authorities released about a thousand detained demonstrators in an attempt to calm the public’s anger. In interviews, the freed demonstrators claim to have been severely abused during their captivity and describe how they have been treated.
Several demonstrators claim to have been locked in small cells by dozens. They also received only water for days and no food from the security guards.
The security footage shows protesters covered in bruises. Others also suffered cuts or broken bones during their time in prison. According to local media, some of the freed protesters had to be taken directly to the hospital.
Two demonstrators were killed during the demonstrations. Over 6,700 people were arrested. President Alexandr Lukashenko said that he was tough on the demonstrators.
The demonstrations followed Lukashenko’s huge election profits, claiming to have received more than 80% of the votes. Almost no one believes this result, and almost everyone assumes that there has been fraud.
According to Professor André Gerrits, the results of the election showed that Lukashenko “does not take the population seriously at all”. “At some point you reach a critical point: you get a cocktail of emotions,” says Gerrits, who suspects that the demonstrations may contribute to a turning point in Belarus.
The president’s tough approach to demonstrators has not yet had the desired effect. On the contrary, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again on Friday and the situation in the country has now attracted global attention.
Employees of some state-owned companies are on strike on Friday because of the situation in the country. There are also reports of police officers refusing to take action against demonstrators.
The government reported on Friday that they had the situation under control. In addition, on Thursday, the Belarusian interior minister denied that protesters had been abused.
The main opponent in the Lukashenko elections, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled last week to neighbouring Lithuania for fear of reprisals. She called from there for a recount of the votes.
Lukashenko has to deal with the biggest demonstrations during his 26-year reign.
On Friday, EU foreign ministers meet to discuss the situation in Belarus. New sanctions against the Eastern European country are not excluded.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Belarus to release all demonstrators. The Netherlands also spoke of the worrying situation in Belarus.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called for new sanctions on Friday. However, this requires unanimity and Hungary is expected to vote against the sanctions.