STATEMENT - THE OBSERVATORY
Paris-Geneva, July 13, 2022 – Tomorrow, July 14, 2022 marks one year since the arbitrary arrest of three prominent human rights defenders from the Human Rights Center Viasna. On this day last year, Belarusian authorities arrested FIDH Vice-president and Viasna’s board member Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna’s President Ales Bialiatski and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich. Along with four other Viasna members, the three remain behind bars on trumped-up charges, in appalling conditions, systematically denied communication with their families and lawyers. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) deplores the continuing demolition of the Belarus civil society by Lukashenka’s regime, renews its calls for the immediate release of seven Viasna’s defenders, and demands justice for all those arbitrarily detained in the country.
Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich were arrested by officers of the Financial Investigations Department of Belarus on July 14, 2021. Since that day, the three have been kept in custody on trumped-up charges of "tax evasion" (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Belarus Criminal Code). The investigation into their case has been ongoing for over a year, which is contrary to Belarusian law and international standards. They are kept in appalling conditions in a pretrial detention centre in Minsk, their family and lawyers are systematically denied access to them, and all post communications are harshly censored by authorities, with some letters not getting past the prison walls. There are sufficient grounds to claim that Belarusian authorities are dragging out the investigation and keeping human rights defenders in such inhumane conditions to fabricate evidence and coerce them into confessing themselves.
Four other members of Viasna remain behind bars, including the coordinator of volunteers Marfa Rabkova, the head of Viasna’s Mohilev branch Leanid Sudalenka, and volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrei Chapyuk. The situation of Marfa Rabkova is particularly concerning: the young woman is arbitrarily detained since September 17, 2020 and faces up to 12 years in prison.
The actual reason for the continuing detention of the seven activists appears to be the human rights activities carried out by Viasna, its strong stand against Lukashenka’s illegitimate regime and repression. Viasna has long been at the forefront of the Belarusian human rights movement being notably famous for maintaining a list of political prisoners in Belarus, which now counts 1244 persons. Viasna also provides legal and other assistance to victims of repression, carries out election campaign observations, advocates for democratic reforms and against death penalty. Ales Bialiatski, the Chairman of the organisation, has received numerous awards for his selfless service to a democratic society, including most recently the Right Livelihood Award 2020, he was also nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Observatory calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the seven members of Viasna and all those arbitrarily detained in the country and to promptly investigate all allegations of human rights violations against them. The Observatory also calls on the international community to continue supporting Belarusian civil society, and to take a strong legal and political stand for those behind bars, sending strong messages to the Belarusian authorities that justice will prevail.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.