Update on human rights violations in Belarus and imperative need to establish a Special Rapporteur in June

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Advocacy briefer

June 2012

Human Rights Center “Viasna” / Belarusian Human Rights House / FIDH / HRHF / HRW / Amnesty International.

Since the adoption by the Human Rights Council of resolution 17/24 in June 2011, the human rights situation in Belarus has continued to deteriorate. Harassment campaigns have targeted human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and lawyers. The rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly were also further restricted. In November 2011, Ales Bialiatski, President of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice-President of FIDH, was convicted on politically motivated charges of tax evasion. The Human Rights Council should respond by establishing a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

Update on human rights violations in Belarus.

Political prisoners and politically motivated prosecutions.

As underlined in the last report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, [1] the recent release of political prisoners in Belarus should not obscure the fact that the last months have seen the human rights situation for others significantly deteriorate:

On 13 August 2011, the Government pardoned and released 9 people sentenced to imprisonment in connection with the events of 19 December 2010. This was followed by the pardoning of 4 people on 1 September, and of 11 more on 14 September (...) In the meantime, the authorities have continued to arrest, detain and sentence political opponents, in violation of their right to freedom of assembly. For example, activist Pavel Vinahradau was arrested on 22 February 2012 and sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention for organizing a “toy rally” near a Government building in Minsk [2].

Regarding the recent release from prison of 2010 presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau and his deputy, Zmitser Bandarenka, on 14 and 15 April 2012 respectively, it is notable that they were forced to sign a pledge confessing the illegality of their actions and guaranteeing their non-participation in future political activities. Andrei Sannikau was informed that his criminal record will last for at least eight years. The psychological and physical condition of these individuals is of grave concern: after release, both men stated that they had been subjected to pressure in prison and threatened with rape and mutilation [3]. This undermines the positive developments that these releases have marked, especially as 13 political prisoners continue to be incarcerated in Belarusian prisons [4], among them opposition activist Siarhei Kavalenka, and four persons recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience [5].

On 24 February 2012, Siarhei Kavalenka was sentenced to two years and one month in prison for evading thepunishment of supervised release, after being sentenced in May 2010, reportedly for flying a banned pre-Lukashenka-era national red and white flag on a Christmas tree in the city of Vitebsk. Upon arrest, in December 2011, he was severely beaten by police officers. This second prosecution of Mr. Kavalenka is a blatant attempt to continue his political persecution and further isolate him [6]. Mr. Kavalenka was on hunger strike for three months, until mid-April, and again for two weeks in May, protesting against unjust imprisonment and punishment [7].
Restrictions on the civil and political activities of the government’s opponents heightened in April 2012. Thus, for instance, former political prisoner Vasil Parfiankou was informed on 19 April that a criminal case was being brought against him for allegedly violating the conditions of his preventive supervision. Parfiankou was subject to preventative supervision for having taken part in a solidarity action with political prisoners on 19 December 2011, for which he was sentenced to 12 days of detention [8].

The absence of an independent judiciary in Belarus is aggravated by the practice of disbarring independent lawyers. In 2011, 7 lawyers defending convicts of the 19 December 2010 events were disbarred. Moreover, the interference of the executive branch has a deterrent effect; most lawyers in Belarus feel severely intimidated to work with politically motivated cases and tend to reject them.

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