“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep the Spring from coming”
161 human rights organisations demand an end to the repression against the Human Rights Center Viasna and all other human rights defenders in Belarus. We condemn the systematic arbitrary arrests, beatings and acts of torture they are subjected to. Despite all-out repression by the Belarusian authorities, human rights defenders in Belarus continue to strive to protect human rights. Inspired by their courage, we will not stop fighting until they are all released and able to continue their human rights work freely and unhindered.
Over the past few days, we have witnessed another wave of raids and detentions against Belarusian human rights defenders and activists. This repression is a blatant retaliation for their work denouncing and documenting human rights violations ongoing since the brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters in the wake of the August 2020 election. Since August 2020, more than 35,000 Belarusians were arrested for participating in peaceful protests, around 3,000 politically motivated criminal cases were initiated, at least 2,500 cases of torture of Belarusian citizens were documented. We believe these systematic and widespread human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity. As of July 19, 561 persons in Belarus are considered political prisoners.
Between July 14 and 16, 2021, more than 60 searches were conducted at the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organisations and their staff, including the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’, two member organisations of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, Human Constanta and Legal Initiative, as well as the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Legal Transformation Center LawTrend, Ecodom and many others. Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers were seized during the searches.
During these latest raids, more than 30 people were interrogated. 13 of them were detained for a 72-hour period, reportedly in connection to an investigation into public order violations and tax evasion. Most of them were subsequently released, namely, Mikalai Sharakh, Siarhei Matskievich, and Viasna members Andrei Paluda, Alena Laptsionak, Yauheniya Babaeva, Siarhei Sys, Viktar Sazonau, Ales Kaputski and Andrei Medvedev. Several of them, however, remain under travel ban and face criminal charges. Notably, Ales Bialiatsky, Viasna Chairperson Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna Deputy Head and Vice-President of the FIDH, and Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and Viasna member, remain detained. On July 17, all four were transferred to a pre-trial detention center “Valadarskaha”. Four other Viasna members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapyuk, as well as Aleh Hrableuski of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, remain in pre-trial detention since late 2020 or early 2021.
Viasna, one of the country’s top human rights organisations, and a member of the OMCT and FIDH networks, has been targeted by the Belarusian government for over two decades. In August 2011, its chairperson Ales Bialiatsky was sentenced to four and a half years of imprisonment on trumped-up charges, and released in June 2014 after spending 1,052 days in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions. In retaliation for Viasna’s courageous work and unwavering stance for human rights, the Belarusian authorities are trying to destroy the organisation by putting seven of its members behind bars.
The raids started only one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the situation of human rights in Belarus, demanding the release of all persons arbitrarily detained and an investigation into allegations of torture and other human rights violations.
On July 8-9 and July 16, 2021, the authorities also raided the homes and premises of various independent media outlets and their staff, including ‘Nasha Niva’, one of country’s oldest independent newspaper, and detained three of its journalists. The offices of RFE/Radio Liberty and Belsat, the largest independent TV channel covering Belarus, were also searched, and several of their journalists were detained. As of now, over 30 media workers and dozens of bloggers remain in detention.
We, the undersigned civil society organisations, condemn the massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Belarusian authorities, which we fear may trigger more violence. This latest wave of repression, together with the brutal crackdown over the last months, demonstrates that the authorities aim at having every human rights defender either detained or exiled.
We stand in solidarity with our colleagues and friends who are detained, harassed, and persecuted for their brave work. We regard their struggle with great concern and sorrow, and we are inspired by their commitment and resilience.
We urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the harassment and intimidation of critical voices, and to free all unjustly detained human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
We call on the international community to take a strong stance in support of the Belarusian human rights community, and to speak out for the release of all those who are still behind bars, and whose only crime is to demand a society based on justice instead of fear.
The Belarusian-Swiss Association RAZAM.CH supports this statement by OMCT.