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Andrey Machalou: “The Belarusian authorities have unleashed a scorched earth policy”

Andrey Machalou believes that the law is for all, and that human rights are worth defending. The 32-year-old lawyer has been providing legal assistance to victims of torture, independent journalists, activists, politicians – the type of people who got in the Belarus regime’s crosshairs. As a result, he was excluded from the Bar Association, thus losing his profession. Despite everything, he stays in Belarus and continues his legal work.

  • What strikes you most when you look back on the past year?

Above all, it’s the cruelty exercised by the authorities to preserve the current political regime. It’s really scorched earth tactics. Our young generations will need a lot of time to restore proper State institutions.

On the bright side, I am deeply impressed that my fellow Belarusians managed, despite all the obstacles, to demonstrate over the past year that we are a self-sufficient and resilient nation.

  • One year ago, what were you hoping for Belarus?

I hoped that things would change for the better, peacefully. When all this started in August 2020, no one in my opinion could have imagined that the response would be so violent, so inhumane, that the authorities would take such radical measures, even eradicate the rule of law for the sake of preserving the regime.

  • How has the repression affected you personally?

In May of this year I was excluded from the Minsk regional Bar Association based on politically motivated grounds. I had told the TV channel Belsat that my client (Olga Zolotar, whose case has been widely reported) had been tortured by the officers of GUBOPiK (the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus).

Other colleagues were excluded from the Bar Association too. This in practice deprives us of the right to work as attorneys. I consider this as an integral part of the general strategy of the Belarusian authorities to “clean up” the information space before the planned referendum on a new constitution.

I cannot put my exclusion from the Bar on the same level as other serious forms of persecution that so many Belarusians experience. The fact is that this measure hurts my clients, including those victims of torture to whom I used to provide legal assistance, more than it hurts me.

  • How has your determination to change things evolved?

My desire for change has only strengthened. The events of the last year have shown that there is no way back and that what is going on in Belarus now cannot last. A return to the previous regime as it used to be is impossible, the preservation of the status quo is also impossible.

  • What do you wish for the future?

I wish to see a Belarus that develops as a sustainable State in the heart of Europe, without geopolitical biases. A State where there is real separation of powers, with a judiciary that is truly independent. I am sure that all this would put our country on the path to prosperity.

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