Trade union leaders arrested in Belarus

International issues At least fourteen leaders and officials of the independent trade union movement in Belarus have been arrested by the country’s security service, the KGB.

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On 21 April 2022, we were reached by the deplorable news that violence and repression against the independent trade unions in Belarus have escalated. The country’s security service, the KGB, has arrested at least fourteen activists, including BKDP President Aliaksandr Yarashuk and Vice-President Siarhei Antusevich.

The Belarusian union has been clear in criticising Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and has taken a clear stand against President Lukashenko. The arrests can only be seen as the expression of the Belarusian government’s increased pressure on those fighting for democracy and human rights in the country.

The KGB searched the union leaders’ homes and confiscated computers, personal documents, passports, bank cards and SIM cards of foreign mobile operators. They also took trade union flags and everything that can be traced to the independent trade unions' struggle for a free Belarus, including books.

What the fourteen leaders and officials are accused of is still unclear, but the regime has previously declared the unions to be extremist organisations. Trade unionists have been persecuted, imprisoned and threatened, since Lukashenko declared himself to be the winner of the August 2020 presidential, rigged, election.

Despite massive protests, the totalitarian and illegitimate Belarusian government has maintained an iron grip on the democratic development in the country, and the latest developments confirm that the persecution and austerity measures are intensifying. Russia's illegal war is putting increased pressure on the democratic forces in Belarus as well.

Belarus is one of the most dangerous countries for trade unions activists in the world. There are many examples of how trade union offices have been destroyed and closed, how trade unionists have been forced to flee the country or been imprisoned for no reason.

The BKDP held a congress in January and decided, among other things:

"Only negotiations and a full-scale and open dialogue between opponents representing the entire Belarusian society will make it possible to achieve the goal of reconciliation, unity and development. Without such a dialogue, Belarus will come to a dead end.”

For this to succeed, the BKDP Congress requested that:

• the government should negotiate on equal terms, stop repression and release those sentenced for participating in peaceful protests;
• the international community should help to launch a dialogue within the country;
• the ILO should use its experience and resources to contribute to the national reconciliation process;
• the global trade union movement should provide solidarity support to promote national dialogue.

Since the adoption of these decisions, the developments in Belarus have gone in the wrong direction and Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has deteriorated the situation even more. The imprisonment of trade union activists and the destruction of the independent trade union movement in Belarus show that the situation is becoming increasingly acute.

It is now imperative for the outside world to maintain its support for Ukraine - for peace and democracy. This is also a precondition for giving Belarus a chance to be governed by the rule of law again. Respect for trade union rights is a cornerstone of the development of democratic societies - that respect is completely lacking in the Belarusian regime.