Police arrest initiators of BNR centenary procession

Police in Minsk on March 21 arrested opposition leaders Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, Vyachaslaw Siwchyk and Maksim Vinyarski for the apparent purpose of preventing a procession in commemoration of the Belarusian National Republic (BNR).

According to the Vyasna Human Rights Center, Mr. Nyaklyayew, a poet-turned-politician who was a candidate in Belarus` presidential election in 2010, was taken to the Leninski district police station.

It is likely that he will be jailed to serve a 10-day sentence that he was given in November last year for a call for participating in an unauthorized demonstration.

Vyachaslaw Siwchyk, co-chairman of an opposition group called Razam (Together), was reportedly arrested outside his Minsk home and taken to the Tsentralny district police station.

Maksim Vinyarski, an activist of an opposition group called European Belarus, was reportedly arrested while he was walking his dog. He was taken to the Pershamayski district police station along with the dog.

There were reports that the police were seeking to arrest former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich, who was one of the key advocates of the idea of marking the centenary of the BNR with a procession, which he called the March of Dignity and Freedom.

Mr. Statkevich’s wife, Maryna Adamovich, told reporters on Wednesday that her husband was staying home and would not go out in order to avoid arrest.
On Tuesday, the Minsk City Executive Committee announced its decision to deny permission for the march that Mr. Statkevich and other opposition activists were going to stage on March 25.

An application for permission had been filed by, among others, Syarhey Sparysh of the unregistered Narodnaya Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party, which is led by Mr. Statkevich.

“We were warned that if we dared to stage a procession, we would be punished under the Civil Offenses Code,” Mr. Sparysh told reporters. “That sounded like a threat.”

The March of Dignity and Freedom was expected to run from Yakub Kolas Square to the National Grand Opera and Ballet Theater.

A rally and a concert are to be held in front of the theater from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 25 by permission of the city government.

Mr. Sparysh and another applicant, Valyantsin Trotski, said that they personally would come to Yakub Kolas Square for a procession.

“The concert is a good thing, but not sufficient,” Mr. Trotski said. “We wanted to proudly walk in a procession along the free streets of a free city in a free country, but they have banned us from doing so.”

Mr. Sparysh handed officials a letter from Mr. Statkevich formally notifying the city government of plans to hold a commemorative procession on March 25.
Also on Tuesday, the Minsk City Executive Committee announced its decision to deny permission for a short commemorative procession to the theater from nearby Yanka Kupala Park.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Tuesday that he is not opposed to street demonstrations and processions, but he believes that they can bring nothing good.

“We don’t need these demonstrations and street processions today, not because I’m afraid of them,” the Belarusian leader said, speaking to a gathering of “young art people.”

A single procession through Minsk would not be a problem, but if it recurs time and again, “it will be like 20 years ago,” he said.