Joint statement on Belarus: end attacks on human rights group Viasna
On the first anniversary of the unprecedented crackdown by the Viasna Human Rights Center (“Viasna”) in Belarus, 23 international and Belarusian human rights organizations are launching a campaign to demand the release of seven Viasna members detained and bring to light the plight of hundreds of others, who have been prosecuted and jailed solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
“Today marks a year since the Belarusian authorities launched their shameless witch hunt against Viasna by arbitrarily detaining Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna volunteers. In the months that followed, six more members of this human rights organization were thrown behind bars and charged with unfounded criminal offenses for carrying out their legitimate human rights work, ”the officials said. organizations.
Here is a list of those detained and their charges under the Belarusian Criminal Code:
Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of the Viasna volunteer network, was arrested on September 17, 2020 and has been in pre-trial detention since. She was charged with “training and other preparation of persons to participate in mass riots”, “incitement to racial, national, religious or other hatred or discord by a group” and “membership of a criminal organization” and could face up to 12 years in prison.
Andrei Chepyuk, a Viasna volunteer in Minsk, was arrested on October 2, 2020 and charged with “participation in mass unrest” and “membership in a criminal organization”. He faces up to seven years in prison.
Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Viasna, was arrested on his way to the office on January 18, 2021. Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of residents of the Homel region who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election events.
Tatsyana Lasitsa, a volunteer activist for Viasna in Homel, was arrested on January 21, 2021 and charged with “organizing or participating in group actions seriously undermining public order”. She faces up to three years in prison.
Another volunteer from the Homel branch of Viasna, Maryia tarasenka, was arrested on January 18, 2021. She was detained for three days before being released on January 21, 2021 after agreeing to sign a pledge not to leave the country.
The three members of the Homel branch of Viasna, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsyana Lasitsa, and Maryia tarasenka, face charges of “organizing, financing, training and preparing actions seriously undermining public order and financing such activities” under parts 1 and 2 of article 342 of the penal code. If found guilty, they face up to three years in prison.
On February 16, 2021, Belarusian law enforcement agents raided Viasna branches in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, Brest and other cities, as well as staff homes. In March 2021, the Belarusian Commission of Inquiry, an agency responsible for criminal investigations, opened a criminal investigation into the activities of Viasna under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“organization and preparation of actions which seriously violate the ‘public order or active participation in such actions’).
Finally, on July 14, 2021, following searches against more than a dozen major Belarusian civil society and human rights organizations, including Viasna, by Belarusian law enforcement agents, Ales Bialiatski, the president of Viasna, Vaillantsin Stefanovich, member of the board of directors of Viasna and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, and Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer for Viasna, were arrested. They have all been charged under Sections 342 and 243 (2) (“tax evasion”) which carry a maximum sentence of seven years.
Systematic silence of civil society
The reprisals against Viasna are only part of a wider crackdown on civil society in Belarus. On July 22, 2021 alone, the Justice Department ordered the closure of 53 organizations. At present, more than 200 civil society organizations have been closed or are in the process of being closed.
“The government of Alyaksandr Loukachenka openly attacks peaceful demonstrators but judges those who defend them in secret. His bogus “trials” are kept out of sight, to hide absurd accusations, avoid public witnesses and save themselves deep embarrassment. Authorities are pressuring lawyers representing peaceful protesters not to speak out, and information is scarce. Nonetheless, one thing we can be sure of is that these seven human rights defenders are innocent of all charges, and we demand their immediate and unconditional release, ”the organizations said.
Some fear that none of Viasna’s staff or volunteers will be given a fair trial. Uladzimir Labkovich, for example, did not have access to his lawyer for several days after his detention. Detention conditions are also a cause for concern, as the majority of human rights defenders have not been allowed any phone calls or visits from family members and their correspondence is often blocked.
The common campaign #FreeViasna, demanding the immediate release of the seven Viasnas, calls on the Belarusian authorities to:
- Fully respect their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression of all inhabitants of Belarus .
- Fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everyone has the right to complain about the policies and actions of officials and government agencies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- In accordance with these obligations, the release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Ales Bialatski, Vaillantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against them, Maryia tarasenka, and other Viasna staff and volunteers, and ensure their right to a remedy in the event of unlawful persecution.
Founded in 1996, Viasna is one of the leading human rights groups in Belarus and actively monitors and documents human rights violations following the disputed presidential elections in August 2020. Viasna has been the victim of harassment and abuse interference by Belarusian authorities throughout its existence. In 2003, the authorities deregistered the organization and despite numerous re-registration attempts, Viasna was forced to continue her work without official registration. In 2011, President Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for tax evasion and served nearly three years of his sentence before being released on amnesty in 2014.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian House of Human Rights
Civil rights defenders
European platform for democratic elections
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Foundation of the House of Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Partnership for Human Rights
Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Östgruppen – Swedish Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights
People in need
Reporters Without Borders
Viasna Human Rights Center