The release of six political prisoners should not overshadow ongoing human rights violations

Press release
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Paris, 2 September 2015. FIDH was greatly relieved to hear the news of the liberation of all six political prisoners in Belarus. After having fought for their freedom for over five years, FIDH is delighted to see Mykalai Statkevich, Mykalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Euheny Vaskovich, Arytom Prakapenka and Yury Rubtsou finally free. Their release should prompt the international community to increase the pressure on the Belarusian regime to put in place reforms that effectively protect human rights in the country.

On 22 August 2015, about one month ahead of the Presidential elections scheduled for 11 October 2015, the President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, amnestied six political prisoners whose liberation was among the main conditions for closer dialogue with the West. FIDH urges the international community to base its analysis on the real progress made to protect human rights in Belarus, including legislative reforms, de-criminalization of non-registered NGOs, the banning of preventive detention practices and other forms of harassment of civic activists and independent journalists as well as the end of forced labour, rather than relying merely on this most recent amnesty.

«While sharing the joy of a long-awaited freedom with the six activists and their families, FIDH recalls that their release can not atone years of arbitrary detention, poor prison conditions, discriminatory treatment and multiple sanctions they were subject to even while in detention», declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. «The repressive system that arbitrarily put these people behind bars is still in place

FIDH insists that the rights of all of those released be restored, and all should be fully rehabilitated. Indeed the situation of the six is similar to a number of Belarusian citizens who are currently subject to severe restrictions imposed following prosecution in politically motivated criminal cases. For most of political prisoners who have been pardoned or released, their convictions have not been expunged. They are thus deprived of numerous civil and political rights, including the right to run for election or work as a government employee. Their names remain on “preventive watch ” lists maintained by internal affairs agencies, making them vulnerable to regular police visits. If they are considered to be in violation of the rules concerning preventive supervision, they may face additional more serious restrictions, including the imposition of a curfew, limitations of their ability to travel, and numerous bans that severely restrict his or her freedom of movement, including visiting public places. Most importanly, such supervision makes repeated criminal prosecution and deprivation of freedom possible. For instance, in August 2013 Uladzimir Yaromenak, and in December 2013, Vasil Parfiankou was sentenced to imprisonment for violating the rules of preventive supervision.

The overall human rights situation in the country remains of a great concern. In July 2015, FIDH urged the EU to ensure a meaningful dialogue with the Belarusian authorities by putting in place a certain number of preconditions and by closely measuring progress against a comprehensive roadmap. FIDH detailed current violations of the rights to life, to association, to peaceful assembly, to freedom of expression, and to a fair trial and fair hearing, as well as economic and social rights.

«The election campaigning period has uncovered significant shortcomings in ensuring the rights for free and fair elections and for freedom of expression. Non-transparent procedures for the composition of electoral commissions, which often have no representatives from the opposition parties or independent civil society, raises concerns over the potential partiality of the counting of votes on election day», declared Valiantin Stefanovich, Human rights center «Viasna» Vice-Chairman.

Ahead of the upcoming discussion by EU Member States on whether to renew or lift the restrictive measures against Belarus - which currently run up until 31 October 2015, FIDH urges the EU to address the crucial lack of sustainable reforms that would provide Belarusian citizens with a truly free and enabling environment that would allow them to enjoy their political, civil, and economic rights. The EU should also call for the full rehabilitation of all rights for all former political prisoners.

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