Crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and activists: FIDH’s member organisation in Belarus HRC “Viasna” raided

Press release
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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its grave concern regarding the human rights situation in Belarus, particularly in the context of the Presidential elections of December 19, 2010 after which riot police brutally dispersed a demonstration protesting against the unfair conduct of the election. Riot police beat and detained hundreds of persons, including three presidential candidates, as well as Aleh Hulak, Chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and coordinator of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Election” election monitoring campaign. He is apparently currently facing charges.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu, a presidential candidate, was severely beaten on his way to the protest and transported to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a cerebral injury. According to reports, he was taken from his hospital bed during the night and carried away by persons in his plain clothes. On December 20, at 2 am, the police broke into the apartment of the United Civil Party leader Anatol Liabedzka, and detained him. Some activists are already facing criminal charges, such as the leader of the Malady Front, Dzmitry Dashkevich, who was detained on fabricated charges following Art. 339 Part 3 of the Criminal Code. Under unknown charges, Mikhail Pashkevich, a proxy of the presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, was detained as well.
On December 20, 2010 at 3 am, 15 persons from the Committee for State Security (KGB) raided the offices of FIDH’s member organisation in Belarus, Human Rights Centre VIASNA. Viasna members were in the office in order to carry out an analysis of the data collected the day before from 600 election monitors across the country, in the framework of the "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" monitoring project, run jointly by Viasna and the Belarus Helsinki Committee (BHC). Ten Viasna members were taken to the police department in the Pervomaisky district. Lawyers Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich were among those arrested. All of HRC Viasna’s computers and documentation were seized by the police. The staff members were released shortly after 6 am. Half an hour later, the security forces returned to Viasna’s office in search for Mr. Labkovich (who had just been released but was not on the premises).

Access to opposition websites became increasingly difficult during the night, and on December 20, early in the morning, the offices of the “Charter ’97” opposition website were raided, and its editors allegedly arrested. At least 10 journalists from both Belarussian and foreign agencies were injured and some were arrested or detained. Repressions continue.

According to information received from the Human Rights Centre VIASNA, the 2010 Presidential election was marked by a number of improvements over previous elections, including better respect for civil and political rights during the campaign. However, the process failed to meet a number of key international standards for democratic elections, including the lack of equitable access to the media for all candidates, the absence of an impartial election administration and the unfair use of state resources in support of the incumbent President. The failure to provide transparency and accountability in the vote count was also notable.

The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton noted that “the trend set by the relative progress during the campaigning period was not followed by a transparent and fair polling process. It is especially regrettable that the election night was marred by violence... In particular, the beating and detention of several opposition leaders, including presidential candidates, is unacceptable”, she said.

FIDH condemns the arrests, detentions and harassment of members of the opposition, activists and citizens who peacefully demonstrated in Minsk, as well as all forms of harassment of human rights defenders denouncing the violations which took place in the electoral context.

FIDH calls to immediately:

- Release, without further delay, all individuals convicted for political reasons, who are imprisoned or serving other forms of punishment;

- Stop the persecution, arbitrary arrest or harassment of citizens for political reasons; take effective steps to investigate any cases of illegal arrests and disproportionate violence during the crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators;

- Take effective steps to ensure the freedom of the independent media, both domestic and foreign and to stop all forms of harassment against them;

- Enable freedom of assembly, and without delay return the confiscated materials to the HRC “Viasna” and to independent journalists;

- Enable NGOs involved in the independent observation of the election to conclude their work and to present their assessment without any further harassment.

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