Canada has joined a chorus of other Western democracies who condemned Wednesday’s inauguration of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as “illegitimate.”
Lukashenko, who claimed victory following the Aug. 9 disputed vote, was sworn in for a sixth term in the presence of hundreds of supporters drawn from the ranks of loyal members of parliament, regional and local governments, government officials and military officers.
No representatives from foreign governments, including its main backer Russia, were present at the closely guarded ceremony, which wasn’t even broadcast live.
“Since the fraudulent presidential elections of August 2020, Alexander Lukashenko continues to display disdain for the people of Belarus by holding a so-called inauguration ceremony behind closed doors today,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement.
“The inauguration is as illegitimate as the elections it follows. Canada considers that Alexander Lukashenko lacks the legitimacy to be the leader of Belarus.”
‘Disregard for basic democratic principles’
Such gestures only show Lukashenko’s disregard for basic democratic principles and the fundamental human rights of the people of Belarus, Champagne added.
Lukashenko claims to have won the election in a landslide, with 80.1 per cent of the vote.
However, his main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has been forced to flee Belarus for neighbouring Lithuania, claims to have won the election and accuses Lukashenko of stealing the vote.
The opposition led by Tikhanovskaya said it would never accept Lukashenko’s “falsified” victory and called for an immediate campaign of civil disobedience and open-ended protests.
“This so-called inauguration is certainly a farce. In fact, today Lukashenka just retired,” Tikhanovskaya, a former English teacher, wrote on her Telegram channel. “This means that his orders for security agencies are not legitimate anymore and must not be carried out.”
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful protests to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Immediately following the vote, Belarusian security forces began a brutal crackdown on opposition activists and protesters, detaining thousands of people and using disproportionate force to disperse the protests that only grew stronger as a result.
‘This is an internal affair of our country’
On Thursday, Lukashenko dismissed criticism of inauguration.
“In accordance with Belarusian laws we do not have to inform Western states or anyone for that matter about it,” Belarus’s official news agency, BelTA, quoted Lukashenko.
“This is an internal affair of our country. Critics mostly complain about the secrecy. You know, about 2,000 people, including the military, were invited to attend the inauguration ceremony. You can hardly call it a secret event.”
Crackdown on media
Canada is also concerned about continued attacks on media freedom following the disputed presidential election in Belarus, according to officials at Global Affairs Canada.
Canada, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S., member’s of the Media Freedom Coalition’s Executive Group, came out with a joint statement Thursday, decrying attacks on journalists in Belarus.
“We are alarmed by credible reports that the Belarusian authorities have harassed, severely beaten, detained and revoked the accreditation of journalists and other media workers covering the election campaign and ongoing protests,” the statement said. “This crackdown is clearly intended to specifically target journalists and deny people in Belarus the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
The signatories called on Belarusian authorities “to guarantee media freedom, refrain from Internet shutdowns and respect international human rights law.”
“Journalists and other media workers in Belarus must be able to do their work without fear of detention, reprisals or restrictions (online and off-line) inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression,” the joint statement said.
“Journalists and other media workers unjustly detained must be immediately released. Those responsible for attacks on journalists and media workers must be held to account.”