Theodoros Benakis

Another victim of Lukashenko’s regime: Mikalai Klimovich

One more innocent victim of the Lukashenko regime, Belarusian political prisoner, blogger, and anti-war activist Mikalai Klimovich died in the Vitebsk prison colony no. 3 on May 7. He was sentenced on February 28, 2023, in the Pinsk District and City Court to a year in prison for posting a caricature of Alexander Lukashenko on a social network. His lawyer informed the court of Klimovich’s health conditions (second-degree heart disability), emphasising the danger of imprisonment. However, the Judge, following the prosecutor suggestion, convicted the activist to jail in a general-security penal colony.

As reported by Human Rights Center Viasna, before the court, Klimovich told reporters from Pozirk that he feared dying in prison because his health conditions implied a constant medical supervision.

“I may not even survive a month!” he said.

Klimovich is not a separate case. He was one of many Belarusians with serious health problems in jail. The regime denies them any access to medication and medical assistance.

Klimovich survived in prison a little more than two months.

“He is unfortunately just one of many Belarusians who are in prison despite serious health conditions, suffering from lack of access to medication and medical assistance,” stated the Spokesperson of the European Commission.

“The death of Mikalai Klimovich is yet another proof of the regime’s complete disregard for peoples’ lives and rights,” the Statement says. “It also demonstrates a plain disregard of Belarus’ obligations under international law and of the calls by the international community to stop the senseless repression. In its last resolution on Belarus adopted in March, the Human Rights Council highlighted concerns regarding the situation of detained persons in need of medical attention and called for their immediate release for humanitarian reasons”.

The last dictatorship in Europe

The regime of Alexander Lukashenko is the only remaining dictatorship on the European continent. Although there were attempts to introduce democratic institutions in Belarus, Lukashenko kept the country a living fossil of the Soviet regime using violence and persecution. Anyone who challenged his authority, fighting for the democratisation of Belarus, human rights, and fundamental freedoms, ended up in prisons.

He ensured leadership by rigged elections that gave him Soviet-style percentages. In the presidential elections of August 2020, he contested for the presidency for the sixth time, surpassing all precedents in fraud and suppression of opponents.

The result was disputed at home and abroad. The EU, the European Parliament, the UK and the US do not recognise Lukashenko as elected president of Belarus.

Rival candidates were arrested, as Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhanovsky or forced to flee the country, as the pro-Russian Valery Tsepkalo, who fled with his family to Russia.

Immediately after the elections, mass demonstrations broke out. The regime responded with unprecedented ferocity. The United Nations Human Rights Office reported 450 confirmed cases of torture of political prisoners, including rape.

Many opposition figures fled abroad. Among them is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who settled in Poland.

Today there are more than 1500 political prisoners in Belarus. Many are journalists.

Repressive forces stop at nothing led by paranoia. At the end of March 2022, Viktoria Onakhava-Zhurauliova, mother of 13 children (9 adopted), was sentenced to 3 years suspended for a post against Lukashenko. The well-known painter and human rights activist Ales Pushkin, already among the political prisoners, was recently sentenced to five years. At his trial he escaped the attention of the prison guards and self-harmed in protest.

A vassal of Putin

Lukashenko would not have prevailed this time without the help of Vladimir Putin. Apart from physical support, Russia mobilised the disinformation machine in Europe. Far-right and Soviet nostalgic parties reproduced the propaganda about “western interference”, “foreign agents” etc.

This time, the price Belarus had to pay was heavy. It became a vassal of Russia.

As of 2020 Belarus has been gradually occupied by Russia with the consent of Lukashenko. Russian forces have stationed in strategic parts of the country. They behaved as an occupying army. Sexual harassment of women was among the achievements of the brave Russian soldiers.

In May 2021, Lukashenko changed the legislation allowing the use of any kind of weapon against protesters and opponents of the regime and giving Russia permission to install nuclear weapons on its territory.

The new Constitution of 2022 removed any concept of independence of Belarus.

National economy is in a bad state, while Russia owns at least 50% of its external debt, which it refinances itself.

Not daring to send troops to Ukraine, Lukashenko provides all possible assistance to Russia in its military operations. Russian air force uses even the Gomel civilian airport for raids on Ukrainian territory.

Belarus democratic opposition is rising!

However, despite the heavy sentences inflicted on activists, journalists, pro-democracy politicians, citizens inside the country increasingly react. The democratic opposition acts on several levels inside and outside the country.

Railway workers carried out several acts of sabotage against Russian trains, destroyed Russian equipment and handed out notices in Russian language to Russian soldiers urging them not to invade Ukraine. The acts of sabotage against the Russian forces are rising.

Even before the Russian invasion, thousands of men between 18 and 60 fled the country for fear of possible conscription. Soldiers and military personnel did the same. Many of them formed battalions and went to Ukraine.

At least five Belarusian battalions are fighting alongside the Ukrainians today, many of them in Bakhmut. Their role in defence of Irpin and other Ukrainian cities was significant.

As long as Lukashenko is isolated, the opposition is recognized internationally and gains strength inside the country.

Most of the governments of the European Union are now talking with Tsikhanouskaya. Putin knowns that Moscow and Minsk regimes are interconnected. A potential fall of Lukashenko dictatorship will decisively hurt Putin regime in Russia, while the fall of the latter will represent the end – and possibly – imprisonment of the former.

The EU reacts

The European Commission believes Belarus is among the countries used to circumvent the EU sanctions against Russia. Moreover, the government of Viktor Orbán in Hungary has close relations with Minsk.

EU institutions and several EU-member states are preparing new sanctions against Russia and Belarus.

The EU strongly condemned the death of Mikalai Klimovich. The EC reiterates its demand for immediate access to former presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, who was reportedly hospitalised following mistreatment in prison. The EU also reiterates its call for an inquiry into the cause and circumstances of the death of political prisoner Vitold Ashurak on 21 May 2021 and the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

“The EU will continue its efforts to ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators,” stated the Spokesperson.

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