Arbitrary arrest of Ms. Maria Rabkova, Viasna Coordinator of Volunteer Services
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
At risk of torture
September 18, 2020
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Ms. Maria (a.k.a Marfa) Rabkova, Coordinator of volunteer services at the Human Rights Center “Viasna” who notably participated in documenting evidence of torture and other inhuman treatment of detained participants in the recent post-election demonstrations in Belarus.
According to the information received, on September 17, 2020, at around 9 pm, Ms. Maria Rabkova and her husband were arrested by masked officers of the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOP) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus as they were walking back to their home in Minsk. Ms. Maria Rabkova’s husband was put in a separate vehicle and brought to their apartment, where the police conducted a search and confiscated their computers and phones. He was then hooded and brought to a police station before being released in the morning of September 18, 2020.
As of publishing this Urgent Appeal, Ms. Maria Rabkova was being hold as a suspect in the Okrestina Preliminary Detention Center in Minsk. She is accused of "training or other preparation of persons for the participation in mass riots, or financing of such activities" under Article 293 paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code of Belarus. The Investigative Committee of Belarus is in charge of the case.
Ms. Maria Rabkova, as well as other members and volunteers of Viasna, had previously received threats from law enforcement officials, including officers of the GUBOP, notably through messages passed to them by political prisoners.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over Ms. Maria Rabkova’s detention and judicial harassment, which seem to be only aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities, in particular in relation to her mobilisation of volunteers to help victims of police violence As part of her human rights activities, she also monitored peaceful assemblies, took an active part in the campaign of independent monitoring of the August 9 elections called "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", and participated in documenting evidence of torture and other inhuman treatment of detained protesters.
The Observatory further fears that her arrest comes as retaliation to Viasna’s steadfast monitoring and reporting of human rights violations that are occurring in the framework of the violent repression of the post-election demonstrations in Belarus, and that other Viasna members may be in turn targeted.
The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances Ms. Maria Rabkova's physical integrity and psychological well-being, and to release her immediately and unconditionally.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ms. Maria Rabkova, as well as of all Viasna members and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Release Ms. Maria Rabkova immediately and unconditionally, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her human rights activities;
iii. Guarantee the unhindered access of Ms. Maria Rabkova to a lawyer of her choice and her family members;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Maria Rabkova and all other human rights defenders in Belarus, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.
· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Aliaksandr Konyuk, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Leonid Anfimov, Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Geneva-Paris, September 18, 2020
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 For more information, see Joint Letter of OMCT, FIDH, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Viasna to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, August 24, 2020, as well as OMCT statement, Belarus: UN Human Rights Council must act to prevent torture, September 18, 2020.
 The wording of the article is extremely vague, allowing for a broad interpretation of the term “financing” to formally sanction any human rights work, including helping victims of arbitrary detentions and torture and political prisoners.
Widespread torture of protesters suggests crimes against humanity
UN Human Rights Council must act to prevent torture