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The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

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Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

Iran: Yunes Aghayan at imminent risk of execution

Yunes Aghayan, a member of Iran's Azerbaijani minority and an Ahl-e Haq follower, is at imminent risk of execution after being convicted of "enmity against God." He is held in Oromieh Prison in West Azerbaijan Province, in north-west Iran. Another man, Mehdi Qasemzadeh, was executed after being convicted in the same case around 28 February 2009, giving rise to fears that Yunes Aghayan could be executed at any time.

Yunes Aghayan was arrested around November 2004, following at least two clashes in September 2004 between members of a group of Ahl-e Haq members and police. The group had refused to take down religious slogans at the entrance to their cattle farm in Uch Tepe, West Azerbaijan Province. During the clashes, five Ahl-e Haq members and at least three members of the security forces were killed.

Yunes Aghayan and four others were tried before Branch 2 of the Mahabad Revolutionary Court. In January 2005, Yunes Aghayan and Mehdi Qasemzadeh were sentenced to death for "enmity against God," usually applied to those who take up arms against the state. Their sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2005 and Mehdi Qasemzadeh was executed around 28 February 2009. Three others -- Sehend Ali Mohammadi, Bakhshali Mohammadi, and Ebadollah Qasemzadeh -- were also sentenced to death, but their death sentences were overturned by the Supreme Court in September 2007. They are serving 13-year prison sentences in internal exile in Yazd Province, central Iran.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Ahl-e Haq are members of a religion founded in the 14th century, who live mainly in Iraq and western Iran. Most members are Kurdish, with smaller numbers from other ethnic minorities including Azerbaijanis.

The Iranian constitution guarantees equality to minorities in Iran, who are believed to number about half of the population of about 70 millions of inhabitants. Article 3(14) provides for equality of all before the law. Furthermore, Article 18 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, states: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

Under Article 13 of Iran's Constitution, three religious minorities -- Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians -- are entitled to practice their faith. However, adherents of unrecognized religions, such as Baha'is, the Ahl-e Haq, and Mandaeans (Sabeans), or those who convert from Islam to another religion, are not permitted the freedom to practice their beliefs and are particularly at risk of discrimination or other violations of their internationally recognized human rights.
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Source: Amnesty International, April 28, 2009

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