Belarus Court Jails 600 Protesters

“The sentences were issued against more than 580 people in all,” the news agency quoted top Minsk police official, Leonid Farmagei, as saying.

“For the most part, these were administrative arrests of between five and 15 days in prison,” Farmagei said.

The police official did not specify how many people faced more serious charges.

Lukashenko vowed Monday to come down hard on all those responsible for taking part in Sunday’s unsanctioned rally against his regime.

The authoritarian president was re-elected to a fourth term with nearly 80 percent of the ballot, with his nearest challenger receiving less than three percent of the vote.

Meanwhile the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has accused authorities in Belarus of “violent bullying and intimidation” of journalists covering a peaceful protest in central Minsk, saying the brutality exposed the country’s fragile attachment to democracy following presidential elections.

“The sheer violence and blatant regard of journalists’ right to cover a public event were shocking,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The scenes in Minsk reinforce the image of the intolerant and repressive rule and indicate just how distant Belarus is from the exercise of democracy.”

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an IFJ affiliate, also condemned what is described as “shocking facts of severe force used by the police against journalists and civil activists in the evening of 19 December”.

The BAJ says Belarus and foreign journalists were attacked by Special Forces, beaten up, wrestled to the ground and made to lie in the snow, and had their equipment destroyed.

Media reports say police moved in to break up a peaceful gathering of opposition candidates and supporters at the Independence Square in Minsk which had gathered to protest over presidential elections results which gave victory to the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.

The IFJ says the clampdown on media and political opposition signalled the leadership’s intention to continue its repression of political dissent and press freedom, heightening the tension in the country.

“Belarus will never achieve the status of a democratic state so long as it engages in systematic and violent repression of independent media and free journalism,” added White. “Without press freedom there can be no democracy worthy of the name.” Reuters/Radio VOP