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Belarus
09.04.21
Urgent Interventions

Belarus: Judicial harassment against six human rights defenders

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

BLR 005 / 0421 / OBS 043
Judicial harassment /
Obstacle to freedom of association /
Arbitrary detention
Belarus
April 9, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the judicial harassment against Enira Branitskaya, lawyer and human rights expert, having cooperated with Human Constanta[1], as well as of the arbitrary detention of Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka and Hanna Sakalouskaya, and the arbitrary detention and subsequent release of Volha Shapakouskaya, five members of the Belarusian public association ‘Zvyano’ (“Chain” in English)[2], amid the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in Belarus.

On April 6, 2021, law enforcement officers searched the apartment of Enira Branitskaya and confiscated her digital equipment and money. Earlier, searches took place in her parents’ flat. On April 7, 2021, Ms. Branitskaya was summoned to the Investigative Committee of Belarus for interrogation. According to Ms. Branitskaya, these searches and interrogation would be part of a criminal case investigation on the activities of the International Committee for Investigation of Torture in Belarus, in which Enira Branitskaya is considered as a witness.

The Observatory recalls that Enira Branitskaya was the first woman recognised as a political prisoner in Belarus in 2006, when she was criminally charged for participating in an activity of an unregistered organisation (Article 193-1[3] of the Criminal Code of Belarus) and spent half a year in prison.

On April 5, 2021, Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka, Hanna Sakalouskaya and Volha Shapakouskaya were arbitrarily detained in Minsk following their organisation of the “Machine breathes but I don’t” exhibition, which shed the light on the struggles of the medical personnel amid the COVID-19 crisis and the politicisation of healthcare in Belarus.

In addition, on the same day, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya’s appartment, as well as ‘Zvyano’ office, were searched and technical equipment was confiscated by law enforcement officers.

On April 6, 2021, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya was charged with “financing riots” (Part 3, Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On April 8, 2021 Tatsiana was sentenced to a fine of around 455 Euros, and her lawyer reported that she remains detained as a suspect in the criminal case. Natalia Trenina, Yulia Semenchanka and Hanna Sakalouskaya were sentenced to 7 days of detention. Volha Shapakouskaya was released following the payment of a fine of around 455 Euros. All were accused of “disobedience to lawful order or requirement of the public official” (Article 24.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences).

The Observatory strongly condemns the judicial harassment of Enira Branitskaya and Volha Shapakouskaya, as well as the arbitrary detention of Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka and Anna Sakalouskaya which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of other human rights defenders in the country, including ‘Viasna’ members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista and Marfa Rabkova, as well as the legal counsellor at the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski. The director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski remains under house arrest, while the lawyer of ‘Viasna’ HRC Dzmitry Salauyou is under a restriction order.

The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to put an end to any acts of harassment against human rights defenders, local human rights organisations, public associations and their members, and to immediately and unconditionally release the above-mentioned human rights defenders.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka, Hanna Sakalouskaya, Volha Shapakouskaya, Enira Branitskaya, and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka and Hanna Sakalouskaya, and drop all charges against them and Enira Branitskaya, as their detention is arbitrary and the criminal charges against them seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
  1. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level – against ‘Zvyano’ and all its members, including Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka, Hanna Sakalouskaya and Volha Shapakouskaya as well as Enira Branitskaya and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by;
  • Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by;
  • Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: sk@sk.gov.by;
  • Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by;
  • Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by;
  • Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: pismo_mvd@mia.by;
  • Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int;
  • H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, April 9, 2021

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 FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT and are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

[1] Human Constanta is a Belarusian human rights organisation that aims to protect the rights of foreign citizens and stateless persons, digital freedoms and rights, as well as to promote anti-discrimination. The organisation was officially registered in 2016. Human Constanta is one of the member organisations of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus.

[2] Zvyano is a public association that helps strengthen the role and participation of citizens in the life of society and the state, as well as create the conditions for the intellectual, moral development of children and parents, and promote a responsible and healthy lifestyle. The organisation is officially registered in Belarus.

[3] The Article was repealed from the Criminal Code of Belarus in 2019. As of today, participation in the activities of an unregistered organisation is an administrative offence under Article 24.57 of the Code of Administrative Offences of Belarus.

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