The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time for Belarus’s dictator to go

A sketch depicting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is pictured during a march Friday in Warsaw, Poland, in solidarity with Belarusian people after the results of the Belarusian presidential election.
A sketch depicting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is pictured during a march Friday in Warsaw, Poland, in solidarity with Belarusian people after the results of the Belarusian presidential election. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)
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AFTER WEEKS of peaceful protests, the courageous people of Belarus just got their heads bashed in. Legs and arms were also battered in a night of beatings of detainees by the KGB security service, according to eyewitnesses. The bloodshed, a last-gasp effort by President Alexander Lukashenko to remain in power after a rigged election, has further ignited nonviolent protest across the country. It is time for Mr. Lukashenko to depart and for Belarus to honor the dignity of its people with free and fair elections.

Horrific tales of maltreatment began to seep out of the prisons on Thursday after thousands were detained during protests of the stolen presidential election Aug. 9, in which Mr. Lukashenko claimed to have received 80 percent of the vote, but the real winner was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, charismatic leader of the opposition. Men released from detention reported they were beaten with truncheons and fists, while women said they had been stripped naked and subjected to beatings while listening to the screams of other victims.

The reports of violence ignited a fresh wave of peaceful protests in Belarus on Friday. The demonstrations provided still further evidence of a grass-roots rising against Mr. Lukashenko’s 26-year-old dictatorship. At the huge Minsk tractor and auto factories, workers went on strike and demanded Mr. Lukashenko’s ouster. He sneered that only 20 people protested and then “turned around and went back to work.” Not true: Videos showed that thousands of people were marching in Minsk and other cities. White ribbons, flowers and balloons have become a symbol of the protests. In front of a government building in Minsk, riot police put down their shields and were hugged by the demonstrators.

Ms. Tikhanovskaya, whose departure for Lithuania earlier in the week appeared to be under duress from the authorities, issued a new statement Friday calling on mayors across Belarus to organize peaceful protests on Saturday and Sunday to back the victory she won at the polls. “We have always said that we have to defend our election using only legal, nonviolent means, but the authorities have turned the public’s peaceful protests into a bloodbath,” she said. “The situation is critical.” She later announced on the encrypted platform Telegram plans to form a coordinating committee from civil society and leading figures in Belarus “to secure the transfer of power.”

European Union foreign ministers are discussing sanctions against Belarus, but it will take time. The U.S. response has been torpid. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he was troubled that peaceful protesters were “being treated in ways that are inconsistent with how they should be treated.” Sanctions are “yet to be determined,” he added. “We’re still pretty fresh off this election and we need to see how things settle out here in the near future.” This is thin gruel in keeping with an administration all too willing to give despots the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Lukashenko stole the presidential election and inflicted violence on his own people. It is time for him to go.

Read more:

Read a letter responding to this editorial: Putin will never permit truly democratic regime change in Belarus

The Post’s View: Belarus had its future stolen — again

Carl Bildt: All eyes on Belarus, where the dictator’s script has changed and people are pushing back

Vladimir Kobets and David J. Kramer: How a surprising election has jolted the dictator of Belarus

The Post’s View: At the barricades in Belarus

The Post’s View: Putin has set his eyes on Belarus. The West can help it resist.

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