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Union activist detained in Belarus over protest action

3 September, 2020Lizaveta Merliak, international secretary of Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), an IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, was arrested in front of her house in Grodno on 30 August. Thanks to pressure from activists both inside and outside Belarus, she was released from custody but will face trial later.

Two men in plain clothes approached the union activist as she was returning home together with her husband and small son in the afternoon. Without showing a warrant, the two men grabbed Lizaveta, took her telephone and put her in a car. One of the men briefly showed an id, not leaving enough time to read what it said and the intervention looked like a kidnapping.

Lizaveta was later taken to the local police station where she was interrogated by several people on her participation in the protest against rigged elections earlier the same day. She was released after a few hours, but the police kept her telephone and told her she would be summoned to a court hearing.

When Lizaveta was taken away by to the police, her husband called the local union leader and they informed other colleagues of the arrest. The police station allegedly received many calls both from inside and outside of Belarus, with union activists demanding explanations as for the reasons for the arrest. These acts of solidarity has certainly played a role in Lizaveta’s release.

Lizaveta Merliak says:

“I want to thank everyone; to a large extent I was released thanks to your solidarity. Unfortunately, right now other union members including Mikalaj Zimin, ex-chairman of BITU, and Anatoly Bokun, co-chairman of striking committee at Belaruskali, remain in prison. I urge you to extend your solidarity to them and all union and labour activists currently facing persecution in Belarus.”

BITU believes that the union’s active links with striking committees at different companies in Belarus can be the reasons behind Lizaveta’s arrest.

During the recent presidential elections in August, numerous cases of fraud and manipulation were reported in Belarus. A wave of spontaneous walkouts and wildcat protests of workers took place at large enterprises of Belarus in response to the extreme violence, arrests and detentions orchestrated by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Workers created striking committees to coordinate protest activities and authorities replied with repressions and intimidations. Many members of the striking committees had to withdraw due to enormous pressure on themselves and members of their families. Some have even had even to escape to neighbouring countries over fears their life and freedom.

Photo credit: Piotr Markielau