Population: 9,500,000
Capital: Minsk

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2002200320042005200620072008200920102011

2011 Key Developments: Public protests following the deeply flawed December 19, 2010, presidential election led incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claimed to have won a new term, to orchestrate an extensive crackdown on all forms of dissent. Most visibly, three former presidential candidates received prison terms of five years or more for their roles in the demonstrations. Protesters continued to come into the street during 2011, but they faced prison terms even for mild forms of expression like wordlessly clapping hands. The regime also continued to harass the media and attempted to gain tighter control over the internet. Ethnic Poles and their leaders similarly faced official harassment during the year.

Political Rights: Belarus is not an electoral democracy. Serious and widespread irregularities have marred all recent elections, including the December 2010 presidential poll. The constitution vests most power in the president, giving him control over the government, courts, and even the legislative process by stating that presidential decrees have a higher legal force than ordinary legislation. The National Assembly serves largely as a rubber-stamp body. The president is elected for five-year terms, and there are no term limits. Opposition parties have no representation in the National Assembly, while pro-presidential parties serve only superficial functions. During the local elections in April 2010, approximately 360 opposition candidates competed for the 21,000 seats, but many withdrew, claiming that the authorities obstructed their campaigns. Corruption continues to be a serious problem and is fed by the state's dominance of the economy and the overall lack of transparency and accountability in government.

Civil Liberties: Lukashenka's government systematically curtails press freedom. Libel is both a civil and a criminal offense, and an August 2008 media law gives the state a monopoly on information about political, social, and economic affairs. The law gives the cabinet control over internet-based media. State media are subordinated to the president, and harassment and censorship of independent media are routine. A June 2010 presidential decree requires internet cafe owners to identify users and track their online activities. Despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and faiths shall be equal before the law," government decrees and registration requirements have increasingly restricted religious activity. The Lukashenka government restricts freedom of assembly for critical independent groups. Protests and rallies require authorization from local authorities, who can arbitrarily withhold or revoke permission. When public demonstrations do occur, police frequently break them up and arrest participants. Freedom of association is severely restricted, with more than a hundred of the most active nongovernmental organizations forced to close down between 2003 and 2005. Although the country's constitution calls for judicial independence, courts are subject to significant executive influence. The right to a fair trial is often not respected in cases with political overtones. An internal passport system, in which a passport is required for domestic travel and to secure permanent housing, limits freedom of movement and choice of residence. Ethnic Poles and Roma often face discrimination. There are significant discrepancies in income between men and women, and women are poorly represented in leading government positions. As a result of extreme poverty, many women have become victims of the international sex trade.

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