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More than 48 protesters and journalists from Belarus were detained last week during protests over a new tax on unemployment. A government ban on protests saw some receiving sentences of up to 15 days in administrative detention, and at least eight journalists are still detained at time of print.
The new, so-called “social parasite” tax will mean citizens who have been unemployed long-term will have to pay an annual tax of $362.49 NZD — around a month’s average wages in Belarus.
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed the tax would “instil discipline in the work-shy.” The tax has been suspended for this year, but with a warning that it has not been abandoned altogether.
Unrest began in mid-February when citizens first received bills for the tax. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, more than 100 journalists have been detained, beaten, or otherwise harassed in the last two months.
Protesters also spoke out against Lukashenko, who has been in power since assuming office in 1994. Lukashenko has been widely labelled as “Europe’s Last Dictator” in mainstream media.
A statement released by the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Canberra, which was translated for Salient, dismissed foreign press as using the negative coverage “to further their own ends,” and pointedly said that “as opposed to practise in a number of other countries, water-cannon or tear-gas were not used.”
Despite claims that the authorities acted to “ensure the safety of citizens,” Amnesty International denounced the arrests as “disturbing and arbitrary” and called for their immediate end.
“The Belarusian authorities must not crackdown on peaceful dissenters just for daring to voice their opinion” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Instead of detaining them, the authorities must respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Anyone arrested during the protests for peacefully criticising the government must be immediately released.”