Tens of thousands of people have taken part in strikes and demonstrations in the country since Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in rigged presidential elections in early August 2020. Thousands have been arrested and detained and more than 150 remain behind bars. Among these are several trade unionists. On 20 January, Belarus Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the Belaruskali strike committee and judged last year’s strike illegal. After protesting against the result of presidential elections, many workers and members of independent unions have received disproportionate reprisals.
Members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union BITU, Igor Povarov, Alexander Bobrov and Yevgeny Govor were this week imprisoned for seeking to organise a strike at the BMZ metals plant in Zhlobin on 17 August, 2020. They were accused of "organizing, preparing or actively participating in actions that grossly violate public order". Management at the BMZ plant is trying to stifle the activities of a newly formed independent union, and witch-hunts against workers trying to organise genuine unions in other workplaces around the country are also underway. The three workers in the town of Zhlobin were sentenced to prison terms of 2.5 and 3 years.
Vladimir Berdnikovich and Andrey Prilutsky, also members of BITU, were accused of violence against the police. Vladimir was sentenced to four years after running away after a protest in October. Andrey Prilutsky intervened when an elderly man was being beaten up in August, and in response he was beaten, detained and sentenced to 15 days.
On 19 January, Daria Polyakova, youth network coordinator of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union REP, affiliated to IndustriALL, was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom (house arrest) for “violence or threat of violence against an employee of the internal affairs agency”. Daria damaged the sleeve of a police officer’s jacket when she tried to prevent a colleague from being detained.
On 18 January, REP lawyer and human rights activist Leonid Sudalenko has been detained in Gomel for “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order”. The union assumes that Sudalenko is being accused of financing the riots, since he helped the victims of repression to pay fines.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, upholding a lower court decision that the strike last year was illegal, is yet another blow to the fundamental right of all workers to take strike action to defend their interests. It is a clear sign that Belarusian authorities are not ready for a real dialogue with workers and people of the country.
Both the ITUC and IndustriALL Global Union have strongly condemned the Supreme Court's ruling and the repression.