Belarus Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as BEL, Belarus under Aleksandr Lukashenko is usually called Europe’s last dictatorship. The decree of the president has a stronger position than the laws of the country and his power over the administration and courts resembles sovereignty. Government-critical voices are countered and it is explicitly forbidden to portray the country in bad days.

Belarus elections are events that are directed to show the results the president wants to see. His tolerance of opponents seemed to increase for a time, at least compared to when oppression was greatest, and the political opposition has been opposed less openly. But at the parliamentary elections in autumn 2019, it became once again more difficult for independent candidates to get space. At the same time, a free party system is lacking, electoral procedures are taking place without transparency and citizens who are politically or trade unionically can expect to be monitored, eavesdropped, fined and kicked out of their jobs.

Freedom of association and meeting is limited. Police violations at demonstrations occur. Human rights organizations report that minorities, not least the Roma, are discriminated against.

Sweden and the EU provide assistance to democracy projects in Belarus. The country is outside the Council of Europe, which has the task of protecting human rights. Until 2016, Belarus was subject to international sanctions, which resulted from the disappearance of regime critics and election fraud, but since the regime released political prisoners, most of the sanctions were removed. The fluctuating economy has forced the regime to seek better relations with the outside world, which has also led the president to show somewhat greater responsiveness to criticism than before. In 2017, people who demonstrated against a disputed tax that Lukashenko introduced through decree 2015 were arrested, but the protests ended with the tax being withdrawn.

The economy is essentially state-controlled. There is no independent body that examines suspected corruption and litigation if mosquitoes occur without transparency, but disclosures can lead to action in the public eye (see Calendar). When Transparency International, which examines the level of corruption in the countries of the world, published its assessment for 2019, Belarus was ranked 66 out of 180, see list here.

Freedom of expression and media

Belarus is in the bottom tier of media freedom. At Reporters Without Borders, Belarus 2020 was ranked 153rd in a review of press freedom in the countries of the world, see list here.

After the independence of the Soviet Union in 1991, hundreds of new magazines and magazines were founded, but they barely started working before the thumbscrews were tightened. Independent media was driven underground. Belarus has repeatedly been singled out for politically motivated prosecutions and jail sentences against journalists, travel restrictions for regime-critical reporters, raids on independent media and seizures of entire newspaper editions and editorial equipment. Often the authorities take bureaucratic pretexts (see Calendar). Anyone who is convicted of having portrayed the country – or the president – unfairly risks up to two years in prison.

Through the government’s monopoly on print shops, subscription services, postal services and radio and TV stations, the government has almost complete control over the media. A media law from 2008 means that all journalists – including foreigners – must obtain government clearance to work, and foreign funding is in principle prohibited. Many Belarusian journalists are prevented from leaving the country, and foreign journalists can be denied a visa to enter.

Independent media used the Internet in the past to reach out, but the authorities have now provided far-reaching opportunities to control the flow there as well. Internet-based media must register with the authorities and the Internet is subject to the same laws as print media. In 2014, following a sharp devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, a number of independent sites were blocked, without explanation.

Russian is the dominant language in all media. Among the largest newspapers is the government agency Sovetskaja Belorussija. In 2011, the magazine published what was said to be an intelligence report in which the Swedish ambassador was accused of conspiring with extremists. The ambassador was forced to leave the country some time later, but diplomatic relations have been normalized (see Calendar).

The Belarus Independent Journalist Association (Belarusian Journalists Association) is working to strengthen freedom of the press. There has been an independent financial newspaper, BDG Delovaja Gazeta (BDG Business newspaper), but it has been closed down. Non-governmental Narodnaja Volja (People’s will) has long struggled for its survival. Svetlana Kalinkina, an award-winning journalist with a background on both editorials, has participated in, among other things, harassment by the authorities and computer seizures. When the author Svetlana Aleksijevich received the Nobel Prize in 2015, she chose to comment on the award from the independent, Belarusian-speaking newspaper Nasja Niva (Our field). Aleksijevich stressed that the regime was trying to ignore her and her books.

Radio and television broadcasts are completely controlled by the regime. The Belsat network TV channel, on the other hand, is independent – it is mainly financed by the Polish state.

Judicial system and legal security

The legal system consists of two parallel court systems – one for general legal issues and one for financial disputes. Both systems have the corresponding district court, the High Court and the Supreme Court. There is also a constitutional court to check that political decisions and laws are in accordance with the constitution. Half of the twelve judges of the court are appointed by the president, the rest by the parliament. Formally, the courts should be independent, but the president has great influence over the judicial system by appointing parts of the judiciary.

Prosecutors can extend an arrest without having the case tried in court, which violates international norms.

Also in the judicial system, bureaucratic obstacles are used to make it more difficult to criticize the state. When attorney Hanna Bachtsina, who had been in business for decades, lost her lawyer’s license in 2017, she was motivated by her lack of skills.

Disappearances or murders of dissent have been reported but never resolved. People in the West who are regarded as political prisoners have been subjected to abuse, isolation and difficult conditions in prisons.

Authorities show little interest in investigating reports of abuse against LGBTQ persons.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that carries out the death penalty, which automatically does not qualify as a member of the Council of Europe. How many people are executed is unknown, but according to some sources it could be several hundred under Lukashenko’s rule.

Belarus Crime Rate & Statistics



MR activist is sentenced to punishment

Human rights activist Aljaksandr Barazenka is sentenced to a sentence of limited freedom of movement for one year.


Entry bans are lifted

The EU is lifting the entry ban for Lukashenko and other regime representatives introduced after the 2006 presidential election.


All parliamentary seats to Lukashenko faithful

Parliamentary elections will be held on September 28. Some 70 opposition candidates are allowed to take part, but none of them get a seat in parliament. All 110 seats go to Lukashenko faithful candidates, although 103 of them have formally been declared independent.


Lukashenko pardons rival

Former presidential candidate Andrei Kazulin (Kozulin in Russian) is pardoned by Lukashenko and released early in prison. He has served two years of his sentence of five and a half years in prison, sentenced for disruption of the scheme in connection with the 2006 presidential election.


Opposition activists are arrested after the explosion

More than 50 people are injured when an explosive charge explodes in connection with a concert in Minsk. Several opposition activists are arrested after the act and Lukashenko dismisses the security chief and his chief of staff.


Young activists are released from prison

Opposition activist Zmitser Daschkevich and another leader of the Young Front organization are released prematurely, following protests from the EU and the US. In November 2011, Dashkevich was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for participating in an unauthorized political organization.