On Sunday, 4 October, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Belarus to demand the release of political prisoners and Alexander Lukashenko to step down. They were met with by riot police and water cannons dispersing the crowds.
The demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities, marching to a notorious detention center and demanding the authorities to release all political prisoners.
From the very morning, military equipment, buses without license plate numbers, paddy wagons and security forces were spotted in the city, the central squares were cordoned off and parking was prohibited.
Traditionally, mobile internet had been turned off, metro stations and shopping centers were closed to prevent protesters from gathering in big groups and block access to the city center.
Pictures and videos posted on social media and by various media sources, showed people beating drums, waving the white-red-white flags, singing and chanting various slogans such as “Long Live Belarus!”, “We believe, we can, we will win!” and others.
There were several video footages showing some demonstrators approaching a water cannon vehicle, opening a hatch on its side and removing pieces from inside the vehicle. After that, the water cannon malfunctioned and drove away.
Several people were detained shortly after the march began and police used water cannons to disperse protestors. Despite riot police actions, disgruntled Belarusians reached the walls of Okrestina detention center, chanting “Let them out!” and holding photos of prisoners.
According to the Interior Ministry, 317 people were detained at protest actions in Minsk and across the country; 258 of them remain in custody trial. Besides, at least 11 media representatives were detained by police, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.
Recall that last week, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry withdrew the accreditation of all reporters working for foreign news agencies and stripped the major independent media outlet TUT.BY of its media status and credentials.
On the eve of the Sunday march, the ex-presidential candidate in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya issued a statement supporting the protest and demands to free political prisoners.
“These are the people who, like Sergey Tikhanovsky [a popular opposition blogge and her jailed husband], haven’t seen their family and children for several months. These are the people who suffered for their convictions, and are still suffering. Our goal is to free them. So I support everyone who takes to the streets in their city today,” she said.
“Let the whole world see – Belarusians want to live in freedom, not in prison,” Tikhanovskaya stressed.
The rally in Minsk ended at about 7 pm. There were numerous arrests near the Mikhalovo and Petrovshchina metro stations, on Semashko Street, in Pavlova Park. Motorists picked up demonstrators on Dzerzhinsky Avenue and took them to the center. The protest actions took place in Vitebsk, Grodno (a 13-year-old girl was detained there), Brest, Zhodino, Gomel and some other cities.
The march crowned a series of rallies in the country since a 9 August presidential election in which Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory. However, his opponents, as well as the international communitry called it rigged to hand him a sixth term in power.