documented cases of torture
human rights defenders still detained to date under politically motivated charges
In 2019, widespread torture and a brutal crackdown on Belarusian civil society led to national and international outrage. The human rights crisis intensified in 2020, exposing the cruelty of the country’s authorities but also the strength of Belarusian citizens and the potential for mass mobilisation for the anti-torture cause.
Following irregularities in the 9 August presidential elections, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to peacefully protest and demand political and social change. The acting government responded with extreme brutality. In the first three days of the protests, around 7000 demonstrators were arrested. From August 9 to 14, the world witnessed severe torture being inflicted on detainees to curb further protests, to get information or simply to punish them for their civil activism. The personal testimony of Vitaly Prokopiev, Nikita Shpakovsky and Anna Soroka illustrate Belarus’ cruel policies towards its own citizens.
Protests and police brutality
The protests continued throughout the rest of the year, but at the beginning of a very cold winter massive street demonstrations moved to local neighbourhoods as the repression intensified. Since August 2020, more than 30 000 citizens have been detained under administrative procedures and over 2000 politically motivated criminal cases have been initiated. Torture remains widespread, with human rights groups documenting an estimated 2000 cases since August 2020. Torture is the emblematic feature of the present human rights crisis in Belarus. The OMCT has argued that its intentional, systematic and widespread character, together with a policy designed to prevent accountability, qualify the situation in Belarus as constitutive of crimes against humanity.
Since autumn 2020, the government has also increased its attacks on civil society, and especially on human rights defenders. To this date, at least six human rights defenders are still imprisoned or remain under house arrest on politically motivated charges. Their names: Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of volunteer services at the Human Rights Center Viasna, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrey Chapuk, Viasna volunteers, Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, director and legal counselor respectively at the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Leanid Sudalenka, lawyer at Viasna’s Homieĺ branch.
A number of human rights defenders are either considered “witnesses in criminal investigations” or are banned from travelling. Many of them have been forced to flee the country following searches and arrests. Those who have stayed and continue to struggle for justice risk arrest on a daily basis. Human rights organisations, such as our partner Viasna, are also subjected to criminal prosecution.
The OMCT closely supported its Belarusian partners - Viasna and the International Committee on the Investigation of torture – and stepped up its international advocacy on accountability for the crimes of torture, and on the protection of human rights defenders under attack. In September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Belarus that included information provided by the OMCT.
To know more on this subject, read our briefing on 100 days of ongoing human rights crisis.
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Policy brutality in Belarus
Testimonies of police violence victims and interview of Dmitry Kazakov, Lead investigator, Committee Against Torture Russia.