Belarusian president signs law granting him lifelong immunity from prosecution

The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has signed a new law granting him lifelong immunity from criminal prosecution and preventing opposition leaders living in exile from running in future presidential elections.

The law theoretically applies to any former president and members of his or her family. In reality, it is only relevant to the 69-year-old Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for almost 30 years.

The new measure appears aimed at further shoring up Lukashenko’s power and eliminating potential challengers in the country’s next presidential election, which is due to take place in 2025.

The law significantly tightens requirements for presidential candidates and makes it impossible to elect opposition leaders who have fled to neighbouring 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 are eligible to run.

Belarus was rocked by mass protests during Lukashenko’s controversial re-election in August 2020 for a sixth term, which the opposition and the west condemned as fraudulent. At that time, Belarusian authorities detained more than 35,000 people, many of whom were tortured in custody or left the country.

Lukashenko has also been accused of involvement in the illegal transfer of children from Russian-occupied towns in Ukraine to Belarus.

According to the text of the new law, Lukashenko, were he to leave power, “cannot be held accountable for actions committed in connection with exercising his presidential powers”.

The law also says the president and members of his family will be provided with lifelong state protection, medical care, and life and health insurance. After resigning, the president would also become a permanent lifelong member of the upper house of parliament.

The opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania in 2020, said the new law was Lukashenko’s response to his “fear of an inevitable future”, suggesting Lukashenko must be concerned about what would happen to him when he left power.

“Lukashenko, who ruined the fates of thousands of Belarusians, will be punished according to international law, and no immunity will protect him against this, it’s only a matter of time,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

The country’s political opposition is seeking an investigation into the disappearances of opposition politicians and the removal of Ukrainian children from Ukraine.

Source: The Guardian

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