Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko signed a new law on Thursday that grants him lifelong immunity from criminal prosecution and prevents opposition leaders living abroad from running in future presidential elections.
The law theoretically applies to any former president and members of his family. In fact, it only concerns 69-year-old Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly 30 years.
The new measure appears to be aimed at further strengthening Lukashenko’s power and eliminating potential challengers in the country’s next presidential election, which is due to be held in 2025.
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The law significantly tightens the requirements for presidential candidates and makes it impossible to elect opposition leaders who have fled to neighboring countries in recent years. Only citizens of Belarus who have permanently resided in the country for at least 20 years and have never had a residence permit in another country can apply.
Belarus was rocked by mass protests during Lukashenko’s controversial August 2020 re-election to a sixth term, which the opposition and the West condemned as fraudulent. At the time, Belarusian authorities arrested more than 35,000 people, many of whom were tortured in custody or fled the country.
Lukashenko has also been accused of involvement in the illegal transfer of children from Russian-held Ukrainian cities to Belarus.
According to the text of the new law, Lukashenko, if he leaves power, “cannot be held responsible for acts committed in connection with the exercise of his presidential powers.”
The law also says that the president and his family members will have lifelong government protection, medical care, life and health insurance. Upon resignation, the president would also become a permanent life member of the upper house of parliament.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania in 2020, said the new law was Lukashenko’s response to his “fear of an inevitable future”, suggesting Lukashenko should worry about what happens to him when he leaves from power.
“Lukashenko, who destroyed the destinies of thousands of Belarusians, will be punished according to international law, and no immunity will protect him from this, it’s only a matter of time,” Tikhanovskaya said.
The country’s political opposition is seeking an investigation into the disappearances of opposition politicians and the removal of Ukrainian children from Ukraine.
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“We will ensure that the dictator is brought to justice,” Tikhanovskaya said, stressing that there are still around 1,500 political prisoners behind bars in Belarus, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialatsky.