Some 50 people in Belarus, including at least 12 trade unionists, have been brutally arrested in retaliation to a series of mass protests against a presidential decree imposing a tax on the unemployed.
President Lukashenko’s Decree No. 3 ‘On Prevention of Social Dependency’, dubbed the decree “on social parasites”, penalizes people who are unemployed for longer than six months with a tax of US $240.
An estimated 3,000 people marched in the capital Minsk on 15 March, while thousands more took part in protests across the country this week, which also called for the President to step down.
Many of the trade unionists arrested are from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REPAM). A further 13 people have been fined up to US$500 for violating laws on holding public events and participating in the protests.
The leader of REPAM Bobruisk city organization, Galina Smirnova, was detained an hour before a rally in Orsha on 12 March. She had been urging union members to keep on protesting until the President cancels the decree. As a consequence, she spent eight hours in the local police station and was unable to join her colleagues at the rally.
The chair of REPAM, Gennady Fedynich, himself facing trial in relation to a march against Decree No. 3 in February, said:
"I would like to ask why these people were arrested? Is peaceful assembly banned? Are we under martial law? I am sure that authorities aim to scare people. This is a great mistake.”
Union representatives are preparing a new complaint to the International Labour Organization and are calling REPAM’s partner organizations in other countries to report to their governments and employers about the situation in Belarus.
In a letter to President Lukashenko, IndustriALL General Secretary, Valter Sanches, said:
“IndustriALL Global Union condemns in the strongest terms the arrest of peaceful dissenters in the last week, who have been legitimately expressing their voice of opposition to the unemployment tax. We call on the Belarusian authorities to release all the civil society protesters, including 12 union leaders, without delay.
“IndustriALL Global Union calls for the abolition of the unemployment tax, which is in blatant violation of Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, and international core labor standards, including ILO Convention 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labour.”
Many consider the arrests as a warning by authorities to people to discourage participation in a major ‘Freedom Day’ protest planned for 25 March.
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