On November 15, Piotr Markiełaŭ, a student leader and civil rights activist in Belarus, was arrested in connection with his activism. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison for taking part in a protest commemorating an artist who died after being severely beaten by plain-clothes police several days earlier. As is now common in Belarus, where repression has recently escalated, he was denied access to his lawyer.
Piotr has been involved in activism since he was 18 years old. He attended an educational event talking about the liberty movement and decided that he wanted to do his part to help bring about greater freedom and transparency in Belarus. In 2014, he ran as a candidate in a local election.
As a committed pro-liberty activist in Europe’s last dictatorship, this is not the first time that Piotr has been arrested. The 25-year-old has spent a total of over 50 days behind bars in the notoriously harsh conditions of Belarusian prisons.
Earlier this year, on July 29, he was arrested and sentenced to 12 days imprisonment when he supported families of political prisoners at a protest. In December 2019, he was detained and fined for taking pictures of the Belarusian KGB and documenting electoral fraud and corruption.
During his years of activism, Piotr has been a prominent advocate for a number of pro-liberty causes in Belarus, particularly drug policy reform. His first arrest came in 2017 when he was an observer providing coverage at an anarchist rally to ensure that he would be a witness if anyone was arbitrarily arrested.
Police subsequently intervened, using gas. Piotr was accused of wearing a mask, which is not allowed at protests in Belarus, and charged with resisting detention, spending 12 days in prison. He has been detained numerous times since.
Nonetheless, despite the extremely hostile political climate for activists in Belarus, Piotr remains resolute in his fight for liberty.
How things stand in Belarus
In August, Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian leader since 1994, declared himself to have won reelection with over 80% of the vote in an election widely recognized as fraudulent. Ever since, the nation has witnessed mass demonstrations against Lukashenko’s regime, demanding free and fair elections.
A vast proportion of the Belarusian population have taken part in these demonstrations. People from all walks of life and differing political factions have united in viewing Lukashenko and his government as a common enemy. Many who were previously apolitical have taken a stand against the repression, corruption, and abuse of power that has plagued Belarus for decades.
However, Lukashenko has stubbornly refused to step aside. Over the past months, the scale of state repression has only increased, with beatings and the use of torture reportedly widespread. Thousands of protesters have been arrested, and many opposition activists have disappeared.
The situation in Belarus remains bleak, although that does not deter activists like Piotr, who will continue to fight for meaningful change in the country. A difficult road lies ahead, but the journey towards greater freedom in Belarus is a very necessary one.
To read more about Piotr’s story, you can click on the button below to learn about his recent interview with SFL.