It is the largest number of arrests reported in a single day since the protests began. According to Viasna, the total number of people detained since August is believed to have exceeded 25,000.
Sunday marks the 14th consecutive week that demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years.
The mass arrests came on the heels of the killing of Roman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old anti-government protester, who died in a Minsk hospital on Thursday after being severely beaten by security forces, according to protesters and members of his family.
Protesters chanted and carried banners reading “I will go out,” the last known words of Bondarenko in a Telegram conversation before his death. He was beaten at the “Change Square” in Minsk, which was the last point for all Minsk protesters on Sunday. Bondarenko was a painter who lived in Minsk and served in the army.
On Thursday, his sister Volga Kucharenka said that Bondarenko was beaten in or on his way to the central police station. She said he was taken from the Minsk Central Police Department to the hospital on Wednesday night, after suffering serious injuries. She said he passed away the next day around 8 p.m. local time.
“Tonight I found out that my brother died in hospital after spending an entire day in the intensive care room,” Kucharinka said in a video on Thursday.
“Roman didn’t spark a quarrel, I know for sure, I know from eyewitnesses. All the bad things happened later … I made this video to let people know what’s going on. My brother was a calm and positive guy, who always avoided conflicts.”
During Sunday’s protests in Minsk, police used batons and tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds. A video clip shows police violently beating protesters in a supermarket. Other videos show police detaining people and taking them in police cars.
Arrests have also occurred in the cities of Navherodk, Babruysk, Vytsebsk, Hommel and Svetlahorsk, according to Vyasna.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a statement Sunday that at least 23 journalists have been arrested across the country.
“The police have arrested two journalists who were covering protests in Minsk, Vitebsk, Herodna and Pinsk. We know of 23 arrests,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a statement.
Former presidential candidate Svetlana Tekanovskaya, who now lives outside Belarus, described Bondarenko as the hero of the protest killed “by the regime’s partners,” and urged Belarusians to continue the peaceful protest.
“He was an innocent victim of an inhuman regime that considered people’s lives to be the price of power,” Tikanovskaya said on Telegram. “We all understand that a peaceful person could have ended up in their place.”
“Like millions of Belarusians, I sympathize with the Roman family. We will not forgive this murder. We will write a Roman name in the history of New Belarus as the name of the hero.”
In response to Bandarenko’s death, Marie Struthers, Director of Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Division, said that the Belarusian authorities “must immediately begin an immediate, thorough, impartial and independent investigation”.
“There is no doubt that he was beaten by security forces officers, like hundreds of other peaceful protesters who were attacked just for raising their voices,” Struthers said. Instead of taking him to hospital, the police arrested and detained him. “
The time has come to put an end to the era of terror and unveil all those responsible for these crimes. “
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Belarusian authorities to release political prisoners who were detained “for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful participation in protests, calling for free and fair elections, and calling for a national dialogue to end the ongoing crisis.”
“These political prisoners were subjected to harsh and life-threatening detention conditions, including credible reports of torture,” Pompeo said. “They are among the thousands of people who have been subjected to unfair arrests since the violent crackdown began.”
He said, “The United States stands with those who are still detained and whose fate is unknown, those who have been killed, and those who continue to peacefully affirm their right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections.”