Belarus: First hearing in the trial against Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka

08/09/2021
Urgent Appeal
Credit: Viasna

New information
BLR 001 / 0121 / OBS 003.4
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
Trial
Belarus
September 8, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the latest developments in the trial of Leanid Sudalenka, lawyer of the Homieĺ (Gomel) branch of the Human Rights Center Viasna [1], Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka, Viasna’s volunteers working with Mr. Sudalenka.

On September 3, 2021, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka appeared before the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ, for the first hearing in their trial, presided by judge Siarhei Salouski, known for imposing systematically unfair and repressive sentences in the post-2020 Presidential election politically motivated prosecutions. The three human rights defenders are prosecuted under charges of “organisation and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities” (Parts 1 and 2 of Article 342 of the Belarus Criminal Code). If convicted, they could face a three-year prison sentence. Mr. Sudalenka and Ms. Lasitsa have been arbitrarily detained for more than seven months in the pre-trial detention center No. 3 in Homieĺ, and Ms. Tarasenka is currently under travel restriction and an obligation to appear before a court or an internal affairs department in case she is summoned.

Before the opening of the trial, some representatives of pro-governmental media and only five attendees were allowed into the courtroom. The court guards justified such restrictions by the health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and asked those present to delete all photos taken in the hall of the building.

At the beginning of the trial, the Prosecutor’s office presented the first motion, asking the court to consider the criminal case in a closed session in order not to disclose evidence containing confidential bank information concerning the movement of funds in accounts, which is protected by the law, as well as in the interest of the safety of the witnesses and other participants in the criminal proceedings, and members of their families and close relatives. The defendants’ lawyers opposed the motion, arguing that there were no witnesses afraid of the disclosure of their data, while the case itself did not contain any state secrets. They alternatively proposed to make some sessions closed upon the witnesses’ request, but not the entire trial. However, Judge Salouski ruled to hold the trial against Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka in a closed session during the entire trial and all those present at the hearing were therefore forced to leave the courtroom. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the date of the next hearing of the three human rights defenders was not known due to the closed session decision.

The Observatory recalls that Leanid Sudalenka was arrested and interrogated on January 18, 2021 by the Investigative Committee of Belarus, without being granted access to his lawyer for several hours. In the same criminal case, Maria Tarasenka, Leanid Sudalenka’s assistant, was arrested on January 18, 2021 and subsequently released on January 21, 2021 under travel restrictions.For her part, Tatsiana Lasitsa was arrested on January 21, 2021 at the Minsk airport by officers of the Interior Ministry, while attempting to travel from Belarus to Lithuania.

The Observatory further recalls that Leanid Sudalenka wasinterrogated and his office was searched on January 5, 2021, by officers of the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in connection with another criminal case opened earlier in December 2020 against a Homieĺ opposition activist, Uladzimir Nepomniashchykh, in which he is figuring as a witness.

Leanid Sudalenka, a prominent human rights defender for twenty years, has been repeatedly targeted by the Belarusian authorities, along with many Viasna members. The prosecution of the three activists is part of a massive crackdown against the organisation.

The Observatory deplores the decision of the court to hold the trial of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka in closed session as this modality does not ensure that their right to a fair trial will be respected throughout all the proceedings. Closed hearings can represent a breach of the right to a fair trial, enshrined inter alia in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in that they do not allow the public to verify the proper administration of justice and that the rights of the accused are duly respected and may, ultimately lead to arbitrary sentences.

The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and other human rights defenders members and volunteers of Viasna, including Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic,Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapyuk, as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory urges the authorities to immediately release Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and all Viasna members along with all human rights defenders, journalists and activists arbitrarily detained in Belarus and to guarantee their physical integrity, psychological well-being and right to a fair trial.The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Belarus to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Maria Tarasenka and all other human rights defenders in the country.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Maria Tarasenka and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapyuk, and all other detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Cancel the decision to hold Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maria Tarasenka’s trial in closed session and guarantee their rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in their case;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Maria Tarasenka and all other Viasna members and human rights defenders in the country, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

v. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by;
· Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by;
· Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: sk@sk.gov.by;
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by;
· Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by;
· Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: pismo_mvd@mia.by;
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int;
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, September 8, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT and are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

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