MINSK — The opposition in Belarus on Monday criticised a parliamentary bill that would give Alexander Lukashenko's regime the legal right to crack down on protesters engaging publicly in "non-actions".
The bill -- submitted by top ministers to the lower house of parliament last week -- proposes a ban on "previously-agreed actions or non-actions."
This is apparently aimed at the numerous "silent" protests the opposition has held in recent months, where protesters chanted no slogans and merely stood clapping their hands.
Under existing legislation, the regime can act against protesters engaged in "hooliganism", while the new bill also covers "the mass gathering of people at a previously-agreed location -- including in the open air -- at an agreed time to conduct previously-agreed actions or non-actions".
The opposition and activists said the law will give the government the full legal authority to arrest rally participants simply for standing in silence.
It will also formally let the authorities videotape crowds and intercept conversations of people suspected of planning banned rallies, according to the draft posted on the pravo.by official website that publishes bills and laws.
With no opposition in parliament, the measures should be approved when lawmakers reconvene in September, following nearly two months of weekly flash mob-style protests against President Lukashenko's 17-year-old rule.
The rallies have been staged across the nation of 10 million people and on several occasions resulted in the arrests of hundreds of people. Most of those detained were released within a matter of days.
The bill "is a continuation of the restrictions on peaceful gathering, but on a legal level," said the head of the Vyasna rights group Valentin Stefanovich.
Vladimir Neklyayev, who stood against Lukashenko in presidential elections, told AFP: "This is being done so that what the authorities are doing illegally now looks like it is being carried out in line with the law."
The opposition's silent protests primarily involved people gathering at an agreed location and breaking out in simultaneous applause. Other events featured ringing cell phone alarm clocks and even a street disco performance.
The bill also makes specific reference to banning protests called though "the global information network, the Internet". The protests in Belarus have been organised by the Internet-based group "Revolution Through the Social Network."