Europe

Belarus toughens laws against protesters and ‘extremism’

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a law tightening sanctions against protesters who take part in unauthorised rallies.

The new legislation also increases the penalties for those found guilty of “extremism” in Belarus.

A protester who takes part in more than two “illegal” demonstrations will now face up to three years in prison, according to the reform published on Tuesday.

Meanwhile those of participate in or promote “extremist activities” face up to six years in prison. Anyone accused of “financing” extremism in Belarus can also be imprisoned for up to five years.

The legislation was signed into effect by Lukashenko on Tuesday, authorities said.

The laws come as the Belarusian regime continues to crack down on the historic opposition protest movement disputing Lukashenko’s re-election in 2020.

The military response to the rallies has seen hundreds of opposition supporters and journalists imprisoned or forced into exile abroad.

Independent media, and opponents of the law, have said that the new legislation is too broad and does not set out a definition for “extremism”.

In recent months, several demonstrators have been sentenced to heavy penalties for such offences. A law passed in May had already banned journalists from covering demonstrations deemed “illegal”.

Critics say the law is similar to “extremism” charges which have been used in Russia to prosecute opposition organisations, such as Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption group.

In an interview with Euronews, Belarusian foreign minister Vladimir Makei defended his government’s response to the rallies and said the actions of the police were “absolutely adequate and necessary.”

The new Belarusian law signed on Tuesday also increases the maximum prison sentence for “violence or threat of violence” against the police, now up to seven years.

A new article in the Penal Code has also added to the sentence for publishing “personal” information about members of the police or their relatives.

In 2020, Belarus’ opposition had repeatedly published the identities of riot police officers, who were involved in the violent repression of demonstrations.

Moreover, the publication of information deemed “false” about Belarus, especially on the Internet, could now be punished by four years in prison.

Protests have erupted in several European cities after opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, and his Russian partner were arrested after their passenger flight was diverted by Belarus to Minsk.

A key Belarusian opposition figure Pavel Latushko has said that the current persecution of the opposition in Belarus is the worst terror Europe has seen in 40 years.

Speaking to Euronews, Latushko called on the EU to apply tougher sanctions on Minsk, such as disconnection from the SWIFT payment system and other economic measures.

President Lukashenko has so far ignored repeated calls for negotiations to re-run the election under free and fair conditions.

The Belarusian regime has also rejected pleas to end police brutality and release political prisoners.

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