After a short-lived policy of tolerance, Belarusian authorities arrest peaceful protesters on their way back from the demonstrations in Minsk
A wave of protests sweeping Belarus last month has now become the largest civic action in the country since 2010. Whereas in February, the regime refrained from using force to suppress the protests, government policy seems to have taken a turn this week.
On March 14, Russian social network site Vkontakte was filled with videos of the forceful arrest of activists self-identifying as anarchists, who have been a driving force behind the winter protests in Belarus.
There are two well-documented incidents that sparked outrage on social media among Belarusians.
Both incidents took place on March 14. The first occurred on a busy Minsk street where several self-described anarchists were forcefully taken off a trolley bus by men suspected of being plain-clothes officers, who then took the protesters into an unmarked white van.
Крыніца – Андрэй Карпека pic.twitter.com/Ga4K7rSZSW
— Viasna (@viasna96) March 15, 2017
In one video of the incident, the narrator explains that the detainees were taken out of the trolley bus and were put into the white van seen in the video.
Another video from a different vantage point was posted on VKontakte on March 15 and received over eleven thousand views in just under a day.
A local activist recorded a video of the events unfolding inside the trolley bus, which gathered over fifty-eight thousand views in a day on Facebook. The video shows alleged plain-clothes police officers seizing and dragging out a number of people, while other passengers shout: “Let them go!” and try to prevent the alleged plain-clothes officers from getting hold of them.
In the comments section of the video, a Facebook user posted a close-up picture of one of the alleged plain-clothes policemen seen in the demonstrations:
His face can be seen in the video from inside the trolley bus:
According to online commentators, the presence of the same man at the two locations shows how police officers took part in the protests to identify the demonstrators who would later be arrested. This incident also seems to corroborate the account of the anarchists claiming that police officers without uniforms were following them throughout the demonstrations.
The DFRLab managed to geolocate the incident to central Minsk: 53.9167, 27.5656, just opposite the Main Military Hospital:
RFE/RL reported that the number of detained on March 15 was “at least 15”. Per a list compiled by Spring 96, the actual number may be 21. The list compiled by Spring 96 currently lists 201 people arrested for protesting between March 3 and 17.
The second recorded incident took place at another bus stop in Minsk and resulted in the forceful arrest of a number of women.
The video shows a group of men forcing people into an unmarked silver van.
In the background, we can hear women call “Help! Help!” The video was watched over twenty-six thousand times in under 24 hours.
Belarusian news agency Belsat interviewed a man who claimed to have been an eyewitness to the incident:
“Four people were kidnapped at the bus stop by most likely OMON officers. They were forced into a Mercedes minivan without license plates. There was another minivan already full of people who were detained. The van did not have any license plates either. A policeman tried to interfere and prevent the unlawful detention, but he was hit by the [alleged] OMON officers.”
At this point, there is no independent corroboration of the numbers and identities of the detained.
Amnesty International has criticized the Belarusian authorities for arresting peaceful protesters and journalists across the country:
“The Belarusian authorities must not crack down on peaceful dissenters just for daring to voice their opinion. Instead of detaining them, the authorities must respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Anyone arrested during the protests for peacefully criticizing the government must be immediately released” –John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia
Despite a reported 201 arrests made so far, the protesters pledged to continue demonstrations and have shared a map of the upcoming rallies:
According to the map, twelve protests will take place on March 18, two on March 19 and a large protest is planned in Minsk on March 25. In the light of an upcoming U.S. decision on extending the suspension of sanctions on Belarus, due April 30, 2017, the reaction of the Belarusian authorities toward these peaceful demonstrations will be observed and scrutinized by the international community. As such, the DFRLab will continue to digitally monitor the ongoing demonstrations in Belarus.
Donara Barojan is a digital forensic research associate at the @DFRLab.