Ten Belarusians have asked Germany’s federal prosecutor to open a criminal investigation against President Alexander Lukashenko and Belarusian security officers for alleged crimes against humanity during a crackdown on anti-government protests.
Lawyers who brought the case for the 10 people, who are now living across Europe, cited universal jurisdiction laws that allow countries to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.
Germany has been particularly active in pursuing such cases linked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The lawyers said their clients had documented more than 100 examples of “violence, systematic torture and other abuses” during the Belarusian government’s crackdown on protests, which broke out after Lukashenko won a presidential election last August that the opposition claims was rigged.
“The incumbent government is severely oppressing its own population with a crackdown including arbitrary arrests, politically motivated criminal persecution and other forms of repression,” they added.
The lawyers said their clients had all been imprisoned and reported instances of “spurious arrests, torture and abuse” while they were held.
The Belarusian government did not immediately comment on the case.
Police have arrested thousands of people for taking part in the demonstrations against Lukashenko.
Authorities characterised participants as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West and described the actions of law enforcement agencies as adequate and necessary.
Syrian case provides ‘precedent’
Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws were used in February to secure a guilty verdict against a former member of Assad’s security services for abetting the torture of civilians.
Citing that case, the lawyers representing the 10 Belarusians said in their filing that the group was seeking an independent investigation and the prosecution of those found guilty.
The Syrian precedent showed that “if the will of the law enforcement agencies is there, they can do it,” said Onur Ozata, one of the lawyers.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in self-imposed exile in Lithuania, welcomed the legal filing.
“There will never be impunity in Belarus, and today’s news is a clear example of this,” she said in a statement.
In March, the United Nations’ top human rights body agreed to set up a team of investigators to gather evidence about the alleged excessive use of force and torture by authorities in Belarus.
Yury Ambrazevich, the Belarusian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, described that move as “yet another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of our state”.
Despite being slapped with sanctions by the European Union and the United States over its response to the protests, Lukashenko’s government has held firm against pressure from abroad to change course.
The 66-year-old leader, who is backed by ally Russia, has instead claimed to have withstood a revolution directed by the West.