Belarus Table of Contents
Belarus's transition from the authoritarian institutions of the Soviet era to democratic ones has been spotty, and human rights abuses continue. The government, even before the election of Alyaksandr Lukashyenka as president, continued to restrict freedom of speech, press, and peaceful assembly, among other rights.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, this right is observed more in the breach. The government continues to use slander and defamation laws to suppress criticism of its policies and government officials. It also retains a virtual economic monopoly over the press through its ownership of nearly all printing and broadcasting facilities. This absence of independence encourages editors to censor themselves. In other cases, the government simply removes the editor of a publication, cancels a publication's contract for paper, eliminates a publication's government subsidy, or denies a publication access to state-owned printing facilities.
Freedom of assembly is also guaranteed by the constitution, but this too is enforced arbitrarily. Despite the law's explicit statement of procedures for obtaining permission for rallies or marches, officials still deny permission when it suits them or higher levels of the government.
There have been many reports of beatings of prisoners, mainly in Hrodna prison, by prison guards or with their complicity. Although such actions are against the law, it is rare for the government to punish perpetrators. Amnesty International has been denied access to the prison routinely, on grounds of security.
In July 1993, Belarus abolished its death penalty for four economic crimes. A revised criminal code under consideration by the parliament would reduce the number of offenses carrying a possible death sentence to eight: preparing and conducting an aggressive war, acts of terrorism against a representative of another state, international terrorism, genocide, premeditated murder, treason, sabotage, and terrorist acts and conspiracy to seize power.
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Published materials dealing with Belarus are still somewhat scarce. A standard work, covering Belarus from its earliest history through the mid-1950s is Nicholas Vakar's Belorussia: The Making of a Nation, which also covers many aspects of the culture. Another work, which briefly discusses earlier history, despite its title, is Ivan Lubachko's Belorussia Under Soviet Rule, 1917-1957, which emphasizes the Soviet era. A more recent book is Jan Zaprudnik's Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Belarus, an economic review by the International Monetary Fund, provides a picture of Belarus's economy after 1991 and includes tables on a variety of economic performance indicators in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.
Current information on Belarus, with an emphasis on political, economic, and national security topics, is provided in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: Central Eurasia. Transition, a new bi-weekly Open Media Research Institute (OMRI) publication begun in January 1995, tends to have one longer article on Belarus per issue. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of June 1995