Belarus: Ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations

15/07/2021
Urgent Appeal

New information
BLR 007 / 0721 / OBS 080.1
Search and seizure /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
At risk of torture and ill-treatment
Belarus
July 15, 2021

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

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations following the coordinated raids and arbitrary arrests that started on July 14, 2021 .

Between July 14 and 15, 2021, more than 45 searches were conducted at the homes of human rights defenders as well as at the offices of civil society organisations across Belarus, including the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’, as well as the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Association of Journalists, LawTrend Legal Transformation Center, Human Constanta and Gender Perspectives, Imenajournal, BEROC Center for Economic Research, Union of Belarusians of the World "Fatherland", Office for European Expertise and Communication, the Polatsk independent trade union, Belarusian School Association and Supolnasc Center.

Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers, were seized during the searches.

On July 15, 2021, Ales Kaputski, member of ‘Viasna’, was arbitrarily arrested at his workplace in the city of Maladzechna. His status and whereabouts remained unknown at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

On the same day, law enforcement officers went to the office of the prominent independent media outlet ‘Nasha Niva’, which has been sealed since July 8, 2021. On July 8, the police carried out searches in their offices and subsequently arrested its editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich, editors Andrey Skurko and Andrey Dynko, as well as the head accountant Olga Rakovich, who remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

On July 14, 2021, law enforcement officers arbitrarily detained Yauheniya Babaeva, human rights defender; Siarhei Matskevich, civil society activist; and Mykola Sharah, trade union activist and member of the Polatsk human rights group. Seven members of the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’ were also detained, including Ales Bialiatski, ‘Viasna’’s Chairman; Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy head of ‘Viasna’ and Vice-President of FIDH; Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer, and his wife Nina Labkovich; Siarhey Sys, journalist; Alena Laptsenak, human rights defender; Andrey Paluda, coordinator of the Viasna’s campaign “Human rights defenders against death penalty”; and Viktar Sazonau.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, all the above-mentioned human rights defenders were being detained for a 72-hour period within the investigation of criminal cases opened under Article 342 paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“organisation and preparation of actions violating public order or active participation in such actions”) and Article 243 paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code (“tax evasion”). Upon completion of the 72-hour detention, it will be decided whether the human rights defenders are released or stay in pre-trial detention.

On the same day, on July 14, 2021, Aleh Matskevich, human rights defender from ‘Viasna’ in Barysau, and Ihar Kazmerchak, editor of the independent news portal Orsha.eu and member of ‘Viasna’ were arbitrarily detained and released following interrogation. Maryna Statkevich, former ‘Viasna’ member in Barysau, was arrested on July 14 and released on July 15 after interrogation.

The Observatory recalls that the above-mentioned searches and detentions started only one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus, which expresses deep concern over the unprecedented escalation in violation of human rights in the country, including systematic repression of human rights defenders and journalists, and demands the authorities to release all persons arbitrarily detained and to promptly investigate all allegations of human rights violations.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists and expresses grave concern over the high risk of torture and ill-treatment the above-mentioned human rights defenders are facing while in custody.

The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of other human rights defenders in the country, including ‘Viasna’ members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista and Marfa Rabkova, as well as the legal counsellor at the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski. The director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski remains under house arrest, while the lawyer of ‘Viasna’ HRC Dzmitry Salauyouis under a restriction order.

The Observatory urges the authorities in Belarus to immediately put an end to the persecution and harassment, including at the judicial level, of the above-mentioned human rights defenders and journalists.

The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders, journalists and civil activists arbitrarily detained in Belarus and to guarantee their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

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 all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Yahor Martsinovich, Andrey Skurko, Andrey Dynko, Olga Rakovich, Yauheniya Babaeva, Siarhei Matskevich, Mykola Sharah,Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Siarhey Sys, Alena Laptsenak, Andrey Paluda, Viktar Sazonau, Ales Kaputski,Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova, Aleh Hrableuski, Siarhei Drazdouski, 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. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against the above-mentioned journalists, human rights organisations, and all their members, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. 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.

***
Geneva-Paris, July 15, 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 OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
· Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18

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