FIDH International Board calls on the end to repressions against Human Right Defenders in Belarus

Press release
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On the occasion of the International Board meeting on 17 December 2021, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its solidarity with Belarusian Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) continuously repressed for their legitimate work. FIDH current and former Vice Presidents, and Board members of FIDH’s member organisation in Belarus - Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, Valiantsin Stefanovic and Ales Bialiatski, remain behind bars. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Valiantsin and Ales and all other HRDs in Belarus.

In 2021 alone, over a thousand people have been tried under politically motivated charges in Belarus. As of 17 December, the number of political prisoners surpassed 900. The de facto authorities have liquidated almost 300 NGOs, including all remaining human rights organizations. Over 30 human rights defenders are currently facing prosecution.

Our current and former Vice Presidents, Valiantsin Stefanovic and Ales Bialiatski, as well as their colleague Uladz Labkovich, have been imprisoned on 14 July 2021 and are detained for over five months as of today. Three other members of Viasna remain behind bars: in November 2021, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa were sentenced to 3 and 2.5 years in prison respectively, while Marfa Rabkova faces up to a 20-years sentence charged under 11 articles of the penal code.

Viasna has been deprived of its registration since 2003. For almost 20 years it has been forced to operate outside of the law. In 2011, its Chairman Mr. Bialiatski was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for alleged tax evasion, while Mr. Stefanovic received a large fine. Today both of them face charges of tax evasion for failing to report Viasna’s income, which they were not able to do due to its unregistered status.

FIDH is deeply concerned by the ongoing systematic repression against Viasna and Belarus’ other human rights defenders. We continue to receive reports of inhuman treatment in the country’s penitentiary facilities, including psychological and physical abuse, beatings, torture, unsanitary conditions, and the lack of adequate medical treatment.

The details of criminal cases are often kept in secret as lawyers are disbarred and/or forced to sign non-disclosure confidentiality agreements. Viasna’s Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa were convicted during a closed trial. Media manager Aliaksandr Vasilevich has spent over a year in detention centre without any information regarding his case publicly disclosed.

We believe that the ongoing repression against the Belarusian human rights defenders is in retaliation to their legitimate professional activity. While defending victims of repressions and telling the world about the horrors of post-election violence in Belarus, they become victims of the regime themselves.

FIDH International Board calls for the Belarusian authorities to:

- immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, including seven members of FIDH member organisation in Belarus, Viasna HRC and FIDH current and former Vice Presidents, Valiantsin Stefanovic and Ales Bialiatski;
- provide adequate information regarding the cases and charges against HRDs;
- guarantee unhindered access to HRDs by lawyers;
- improve detention conditions, stop physical and psychological abuse and torture;
- provide families with access to imprisoned HRDs as required by law;
- provide relatives with full access to prisoners’ medical records and ensure that they receive all necessary medical treatments;
- put an end to any acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Valiantsin Stefanovic, Ales Bialiatski, and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
- ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Belarus;
- authorise United Nations (UN) bodies, NGOs, and journalists to access the country and to visit HRDs and other political prisoners in the places of detention.

FIDH International Board also calls upon the international community, including national authorities, the UN Human Rights Council, UN member states, NGOs to:

- adopt statements and resolutions on the situation with the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders in Belarus, including Valiantsin Stefanovic and Ales Bialiatski;
- continue putting pressure on the regime in Belarus in order to put an end to systematic human rights violations;
- collect, preserve and verify evidence with the view to bringing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction against those suspected to be responsible for the ongoing repression;
- investigate human rights violation involving the Belarusian authorities with the view to identifying the perpetrators;
- continue to followclosely the situation in Belarus, report regularly on the most recent developments;
- in any other way show solidarity with the victims of the repression.

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