Valiantsin Stefanovic’s letter from prison read out during the FIDH’s Centenary Congress

Antoine Mermet / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP

27 October 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is honoured to have received a letter on the occasion of its centenary from Valiantsin Stefanovic, Vice-President of FIDH and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Centre Viasna. Valiantsin Stefanovic is currently arbitrarily imprisoned in Belarus along with six other human rights defenders of Viasna. His letter was read out during the opening ceremony of the FIDH Centenary Congress. FIDH and all of its member organisations fight for the liberation of all human rights defenders imprisoned in Belarus and worldwide. Read the translation of Valiantsin Stefanovic letter in English below.

"I would like to congratulate the [International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH] on its centenary. This is a very important date for the human rights movement worldwide. The Federation is unique because it brings together human rights organisations from all over the world. Its ranks are made up of people of different cultures, nationalities and races, all united by the ideas and values of human rights. And it is a shining example of the universality of human rights.

The role of human rights defenders in the world is particularly important now, as the world once again faces the threat of nuclear catastrophe, for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
Back in the early nineties, we thought that we would never face this threat again and that the world would live in harmony, diversity and peace.

I used to tell my colleagues [human rights defenders of the FIDH] in Paris that a war was coming, a war in our troubled and conflict-ridden region of the former Soviet Union. Many did not believe me. They were saying that it [a war] was impossible now. But I felt this threat of war under my skin. Now we must do everything possible to prevent this catastrophe.

On a separate note, I would like to thank my brothers and sisters human rights defenders for their solidarity and support to all imprisoned human rights defenders around the world, and of course to me personally. Human rights solidarity is a powerful force and I believe I will soon be able to join you to walk together on this difficult path, towards world harmony, love and peace.

With respect, your Valik.

17.10.2022

Valiatsin Stefanovic

Valiantsin Stefanovich, Co-Chairman of the Human Rights Centre Viasna and Vice-President of the FIDH, is one of the key figures of the Belarusian human rights movement. Valiantsin joined Viasna in September 1998 and became its Vice-President in 2000. From August 2011 to July 2014, he replaced the then-imprisoned Ales Bialiatski as head of Viasna. He also holds the position of FIDH Vice-President since the 40th FIDH Congress in 2019.

Valiantsin Stefanovich was imprisoned on 21 July 2021. Since his arrest, Valiantsin has been held in a pre-trial detention centre on charges of "tax evasion", which were later substituted to "smuggling" and "financing collective actions disturbing public order" for the alleged "illegal movement of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union in large amounts by an organized group". Due to the repression of human rights NGOs in Belarus, Viasna was deprived of its registration in 2003 and had to operate despite the risk of criminal prosecution. The authorities used the absence of registration as a pretext to accuse Viasna’s leaders, including Valiantsin, under the finance-related articles of the Criminal Code. Vaisna’s human rights work, maintenance of the list of political prisoners, torture documentation, election monitoring and other human rights activities are the actual reason for the persecution of Valiantsin and other members of Viasna.

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