Sun Mar 12, 2017 3:1PM
Demonstrators protest against a Soviet-style "tax on spongers" during a rally called the "March of Infuriated Belarusians" in Minsk, on February 17, 2017. (AFP photo)
Demonstrators protest against a Soviet-style "tax on spongers" during a rally called the "March of Infuriated Belarusians" in Minsk, on February 17, 2017. (AFP photo)

Belarus has detained several opposition leaders after people took to the streets to protest a new government measure for imposing tax on “freeloaders.”

Vyasna, a local human rights group, said Sunday that Pavel Severinets, a prominent opposition leader, along with three journalists, had been arrested earlier in the day after a protest in the city of Orsha in eastern Belarus.

Vyasna said police had also detained three other opposition leaders a day earlier after some 1,000 people staged a protest in the city of Maladzyechna, northwest of the capital Minsk. It said those detained on Saturday were thrown in detention for 15 days.

The protests reached the boiling point last month after the government announced that those who work less than six months a year have to pay about $200 (185 euros) in tax. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has suspended the enforcement of the measure for this year, a move interpreted as a concession to protesters. However, he has insisted that the government would not backtrack from taxing the so-called freeloaders, those living on unearned income and not seeking employment.

Vyasna said that at least 10 people had been put under administrative detention over protests that also expanded to the city of Babruysk and the town of Rahachow, both in eastern Belarus. It said authorities had imposed fines on many participants in the rallies.

Political dissent is scarcely tolerated in Belarus, an ex-Soviet country which still adheres to some principles of the Communist ideology about labor and other social issues. Lukashenko, ruling the country since 1994, has on several occasions used economically-inspired protests to suppress the opposition.