President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko

The government of Belarus arrested another of the country’s trade union leaders late last month.

Security forces broke into the offices of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) in the city of Soligorsk. Before they left, they seized BNP branch chairman Alexandr Mishuk.

The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) say they believe Mishuk is in detention in Minsk.

Alexandr Mishuk is now one of 21 trade union leaders detained in the last eight weeks. BKDP chairman, Alexandr Yarashuk was detained on 19 April with his deputy, Siarhei Antusevich, and the BKDP’s accountant, Irina But-Gusaim.

The government of Alexander Lukashenko is reacting to unions’ involvement in the mass protests of recent years. Lukashenko won a sixth term after a dubious election in 2020.

Unions have also been unafraid to condemn Lukashenko for his support for the war in Ukraine. Before his arrest, Yarashuk wrote that “Russia’s war in Ukraine is not our war.

“We can stop it, we must stop it! The absolute majority of Belarusians, 97%, do not want Belarus to participate in the war in Ukraine! Our descendants will not forgive us for silence at the most critical moment in our history! Don’t be afraid of anything or anyone!”

Alongside BKDP and BNP leaders, the KGB has also arrested leaders of the Free Metal Workers’ Union (SPM), the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB), and the Belarusian Trade Union of Radio and Electronic Industry Workers (REP). In May, the Government reclassified the REP as an “extremist organisation”

Authorities have charged many arrested under allegations of organising to violate the public order. This could lead to four years in prison or between two to five years of “deprivation of liberty”. The arrests are seen as an attempt to intimidate further strikes and resistance.

NGOs and international trade unions have demanded the release of union leaders. ITUC chair, Sharon Burrows said, “the global union movement is 100 per cent in solidarity with the independent trade unions of Belarus.”

The Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR) has declared its “full and unconditional support” to the BKDP. The KTR has called for a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine. At the start of the war, it said that violence was not necessary.

As of 13th May, many leaders are in pre-trial detention in Minsk. Some are free, including Olga Britikova of the BNP, who was already in jail for “unauthorized picketing”. The BNP was also evicted from one of its offices the day after Mishuk’s arrest.

BKDP acting chair M.M. Poznyakov released a statement saying it “expresses its gratitude to all its colleagues – the ILO, the global union federations, all sister unions – for their support in these difficult times.”

“At the same time, we call for increased international solidarity for the speedy release of all our brothers and sisters.”

Lukashenko and many members of his government are already on the UK sanction list.

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Image credit: Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News