Belarus Rolls Out Big Brother to Counter Worst Unrest in Decades

  • New state-run system of surveillance may span entire country
  • Hundreds of people detained during rallies in Minsk on weekend

Belarusian authorities plan to set up a nationwide surveillance system to get a better grip on their own population as the largest protests in two decades sweep the country.

The new system would accumulate and process data from a network of video and thermal-imaging cameras, as well as detectors of smoke, radioactivity, explosives and others. It would automatically allow for early detection of dangerous activity, state-owned news service Belta cited President Alexander Lukashenko as saying during a government meeting on Monday.

“The recent events showed that such a system would have come in handy,” Lukashenko said.

Protests against the government, triggered by the so-called “parasite tax” on the unemployed, have caught Lukashenko flatfooted after spreading to all major cities for the first time since he came to power in 1994. The wave of discontent has further rattled a country that already faces a worsening economic crisis as a result of a dispute over oil and gas supplies from its larger neighbor Russia. 

The economy of Belarus, a nation of 9.5 million that borders three European Union countries, contracted for a second year in 2016 and incomes shrank more than 7 percent, with the government failing so far to agree on a new $3.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund.

Some 700 people were detained during anti-government demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday in the capital, Minsk, according to Nasta Lojka, a lawyer with a local human rights center, Viasna. While most people were released hours later without charges, at least 100 may face fines or arrest for as long as 15 days. 

Nikolai Statkevich, one of the main leaders of the protest movement, was released from prison on Monday after three days. Speaking during a video conference broadcast online by Belsat TV, he called on Lukashenko’s opponents to rally again on May 1.

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