Lukashenko's repression no longer working in Belarus, winner of 'alternative Nobel Prize' says

By Philip O'Connor
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: A rally to protest against presidential election results in Minsk

By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko's attempts to stifle opposition in Belarus through violent repression are no longer working, giving life to a popular uprising against his rule, leading human rights activist Ales Bialiatski said on Thursday.

Bialiatski, founder of the organisation Viasna that supports political prisoners, spoke to Reuters in an interview in Stockholm, where he was due to pick up the 2020 Right Livelihood Award, known as Sweden's alternative Nobel Prize.

Mass protests erupted against Lukashenko's 26-year rule following a disputed election in August. Tens of thousands have been detained and leading opposition figures were jailed or driven into exile.

But the protests continued, especially at weekends when hundreds of demonstrators are routinely detained.

Western countries have accused Belarusian security forces of using excessive force in their crackdown on the protesters and have imposed sanctions targeting specific officials. The authorities deny torturing detainees.

"Repressions continue, people go to jail, endless harassment and restriction of people's rights in the most improbable cases. Nevertheless, this confrontation is also undermining the government, which is disoriented," Bialiatski said.

"Those methods of violence used by the authorities, they do not produce the desired effect for them. Therefore, I think that the revolution itself in Belarus continues, and there is no need to say that it has reached a dead end."

Bialiatski, 58, is a veteran activist who was jailed under Lukashenko in 2011-2014. He hopes winning the prize will give his organisation added protection, "because the only thing that the government reacts to is the international response."

Russia has ostensibly backed Lukashenko but signs have emerged that it wants him to enter talks with his opponents and embark on long-promised constitutional reforms, a process that could culminate in him stepping down.

Bialiatski, a member of the opposition coordination council that was set up after the election, echoed concerns that proposals on changing the constitution were a stalling tactic.

"Everyone believes that this is just a tactical manoeuvre that would calm down public activity and somehow reassure people, but in fact, everyone understands perfectly well that Lukashenko wants to retain power," he said.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)