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The call for demonstrations launched by the exiled opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa in view of Freedom Day on March 25 was not followed very well: in Minsk, the police were everywhere, while the repression of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko continues to harden. Few posters, slogans and flags: our Observer recounts a day marked by fear of arrests. </p><div> <p>The night before, videos were already circulating on the Belarusian opposition Telegram channels, showing the security forces gathering in Minsk for the demonstrations announced for March 25:</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><sup>This video posted to Telegram channel @belarusseichas on March 25 shows law enforcement vehicles gathered in downtown Minsk.</sup>
Throughout the day, we could see videos of groups of police officers patrolling the streets of the city:
This video was posted to the Telegram channel @belamova on March 25. On the caption, we can read: “Look at how the forces of order march together. It seems to me that someone is very scared. ”
Other videos showed small groups of protesters marching nervously through the streets of the capital, as here in a residential area:
In this video posted to Telegram channel @belamova on March 25, a few dozen protesters can be seen, some carrying white and red flags in opposition colors.
March 25 has been the Belarusian opposition day since 1989. Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the creation of the first independent Belarusian republic in 1918, overthrown a year later by the Bolsheviks. The opposition movement to Alexander Lukashenko has taken as a symbol the white, red and white flag of this ephemeral first republic.
This year, the protest was banned due to the coronavirus and “extremist calls” made through the groups on the Telegram messaging app. In the capital, members of the security forces outnumbered the demonstrators in the city center, Belarusian media Tut.by noted. More than 200 people have been arrested, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.
“The atmosphere was very anxiety-provoking, I didn’t feel safe.”
Our Observer, who wished to remain anonymous, is one of those who defied the ban. An active participant in the demonstrations against Alexander Lukachenko in 2020, she recounts a very different demonstration from the large gatherings of last summer. Among the few people who had the courage to come out, posters, flags and slogans were almost absent:
With my mother and a few friends, we walked from the Obelisk of the city of heroes, where very important meetings had been held since August, towards the city center. I had nothing on me, just pims with “Eve” [un tableau devenu symbole du mouvement de protestation, NDLR] and a white rose on my coat. The same goes for the people around. From what I saw on Telegram, anyone who clearly wore the colors white – red – white [du mouvement d’opposition, NDLR] were immediately arrested.
Looking at the faces of the people walking alongside us, we understood that they were “with us”: they had courageous and open eyes, they were smiling despite everything. Every now and then someone would exclaim, “Long live Belarus! », And everyone answered him loud and clear.
<p style="text-align: center;"><sup>This video posted on the Telegram channel @nexta_tv shows a column of cars honking their horns in downtown Minsk, in protest against the president. In the caption, we can read “Lenin Street is also rumbling, like in August! "</sup>
Faced with the omnipresence of the police, she admits to having come out with fear in her stomach:
All around, there were a lot of law enforcement personnel all the time, in different uniforms. At every street corner, there were buses with police officers. Law enforcement buses were making round trips in the city center. The atmosphere was very anxiety-provoking, I didn’t feel safe.
<p style="text-align: center;"><sup>This video posted on the Telegram channel @belamova can be seen of a group of police arresting two passers-by in downtown Minsk.</sup></p><blockquote class="quote"><p>Personally, I was scared. I went out without a phone, with nothing, and I left a note at home with the list of things to bring me [au poste de police, NDRL] if I had to get arrested. I went out to protest because I do it every year for Freedom Day. I dream of being able to walk the streets of my city without being afraid.</p></blockquote><p><strong>>>> Read also: Belarus: women on the front line of the protest despite violent arrests. </strong>
“People get arrested for wearing the wrong clothes, for putting the wrong colored curtains on the window, for sending a message”
Arrests and trials against protesters have increased since last summer. The crackdown sometimes borders on absurdity: a 20-year-old young woman was arrested for wearing white and red socks. Authorities stepped up preventive arrests in the days leading up to March 25. Some Belarusians say on social networks that they were unable to take a day off on March 25, under threat of dismissal.
Some of our Observer’s acquaintances did not come out to protest, but she says she cannot blame them, given the violence of the repression, which has increased in recent months:
I know people who came to the protests in the summer and last fall, but didn’t come out this time. Some have been arrested, others can no longer return to the country because they fear a possible criminal conviction, still others did not know where to go, or could not afford to take such a risk.
Each week the repression becomes harsher. People get arrested for wearing the wrong clothes, for putting up curtains in the wrong color [blancs et rouges, NDLR] at his window, for sending a message. There are a lot of political prisoners, we come to pick them up at their homes, at work, in the streets. We’re not safe anywhere. Neither do our relatives. It necessarily leaves traces.
Despite everything, she does not lose hope that her fellow citizens will mobilize again in the future.
Alexander Lukachenko said on March 26 that he “calmly dealt with the opposition” celebrating Freedom Day. The same morning, the Interior Ministry claimed to have foiled a terrorist attack in the capital.
The re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on August 9 was contested by the opposition, which denounces major frauds to the detriment of his main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The protest movement had gathered up to 100,000 demonstrators in the summer of 2020.
Source site observers.france24.com