Protests broke out in Belarus after incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko declared victory in an election widely considered to be illegitimate. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator.” His competitor, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was forced to flee to neighboring Lithuania amid suggestions her life was under danger from the Belarusian authorities. State media and government controlled exit polls credited Lukashenko with receiving over 80% of the vote, a claim disputed by Tikhanovskaya and international observers. When it became clear that Lukashenko would be continuing in office, thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in the capital of Minsk and around the country to protest against the government. The authorities have vowed to crush the demonstrations, and Lukashenko himself said the security forces would not allow the country to be “torn apart” by protesters demanding greater governmental accountability.
The Belarusian security forces have endeavored to end the popular demonstrations through shows of unmistakable force, emboldened by Lukashenko’s pledge to restore order. The protesters themselves have been overwhelmingly peaceful, however that has not prevented the authorities from vigorously clamping down on them. It has become commonplace for people to be detained arbitrarily, with people claiming they have been victimized through beatings and torture while in government custody. Belarusian authorities claim that 6,700 people had been detained because of their presence at the protests, but this is disputed by international monitoring organizations who accuse security forces of rounding up far more people. Furthermore, detainees have rarely been able to contact friends or family, leading to thousands of people being unaware of where their loved ones are. The international community has called upon Belarus and President Lukashenko to end the arbitrary detention of peaceful protesters and to release those currently detained. A meeting of European Union foreign ministers resulted in an agreement to place sanctions on Belarus, the specifics of which will be released in the near future.