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(London) -- Belarusian authorities must refrain from using excessive force against protesters Amnesty International said, after police used teargas and arrested more than 300 demonstrators on Sunday.
Social networking websites Facebook and Twitter were also reportedly blocked as thousands of activists gathered in the capital Minsk and other cities clap hands in unison to express their disapproval at President Alexander Lukashenko's economic policies.
Tear gas was used against a group of protesters at Minsk's Railway Station Square and protesters elsewhere in the city were beaten by police. The arrests were carried out by state security agents in plain clothes who did not present any form of identification or give the reasons for the arrests.
"Belarus continues to ride roughshod over human rights, but these latest mass arrests and use of teargas against peaceful protesters show that attacks on freedom of expression appear to be intensifying," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. "These blocks on communication are an attempt to cut off demonstrators from each other and clearly violates the right to freedom of expression," said Dalhuisen.
At a Sunday military parade in Minsk that was marking Independence Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from German occupation in 1944, President Lukashenko blamed the unrest on foreign intervention. "We understand the goal of these attacks. It is to sow uncertainty and disturbance, destroy public consent, and [..] nullify efforts done to gain independence. This will never happen," he said.
According to Viasna Human Rights Center, among the more than 200 protesters arrested in Minsk were 17 journalists. Some of the journalists have been released, but 340 people remain in detention. Some 160 are being held in Minsk, while 180 are in detention centers in cities across Belarus. Some protesters were beaten as they were arrested and others were beaten in the police vans.
Trials are ongoing, with the detainees being charged with minor hooliganism or participation in an unsanctioned meeting, offenses which involve short administrative sentences of 10-15 days.
"Clamping down on peaceful protesters does nothing to address the root causes of their grievances which relate primarily to the economic situation," said Dalhuisen. "Concerns about the enjoyment of economic and social rights cannot be removed by restricting civil and political rights. Peaceful protesters must not be detained, security forces must not use violence against protesters, and all those in detention must be immediately released", he added.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.
For more information please visit www.amnestyusa.org.