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Belarus
29.03.17
Urgent Interventions

Press Release: Crackdown continues, more human rights defenders detained

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PRESS RELEASE - THE OBSERVATORY

Paris-Geneva, March 29, 2017: Belarusianauthorities continue to use detention to prevent human rights defenders fromobserving peaceful protests throughout the country. The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) deplores a new series ofarrests, harassments and convictions and urges Belarusian authorities torelease all detained human rights defenders and investigate allegations ofill-treatment.

As massive protests continue to take placethroughout the country, several human rights defenders have been arrested andsentenced this weekend under Article 23.34 of the Code of AdministrativeOffences (participating in an unauthorized peaceful assembly) in reprisal fortheir legitimate monitoring activities.

Amongst them, Mr. Pavel Levinau, boardmember of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee was arrested on March 26, 2017, fortaking part in protests held in Vitebsk on March 25 and 26 as an observer.Suffering from a heart problem, his blood pressure increased while in detentioncausing a hypertensive crisis. Mr. PavelLevinau has been at the hospital underconstant police surveillance since then.

Also in Vitebsk, two members of the HumanRights Centre (HRC) “Viasna”, Messrs. Kastus Mardzvintsau and LeanidSvetsik were arrested on March 26 and sentenced the following day to 15days of administrative detention. In Biaroza, on March 26, a member of HRCViasna, Ms. Tamara Shchapiotkina, was summoned to the policedepartment, interrogated and charged with “conducting journalistic activitieswithout an accreditation” (Article 22.9 of the Code of AdministrativeOffences). No trial date has been scheduled yet. Moreover, her colleague, alsoa member of Viasna in Biaroza, Mr. SiarheiRusetski was summoned the same day in “relation to a theft”, as he wasgoing out to observe the Minsk demonstration. He was detained in Biaroza policestation but later released without charge.

Belarusianauthorities have been using detention as a means to prevent human rightsdefenders from attending peaceful protests and observing massive violations andarbitrary detentions of peaceful protesters[1].Freedom of assembly is neither punishable nor negotiable. The crackdown mustend immediately,said DimitrisChristopoulos, FIDH President.

In Homel, Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and AnatolPaplauny, both HRC “Viasna” members, as well as Mr. Andrei Stryzhak(Independent Trade Union “REP”)” were convicted on March 17, for monitoringprotests in the city, and Paplauny sent to prison for 10 days[2].

In Polack, Mr. Yury Belski, a member ofthe Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) was arrested and placed in custody onMarch 25, a few hours before heading to a protest in Minsk. He was sentenced onMarch 27, 2017, to two days in detention on charges of “disorderly conduct”. Hewas released the same day as he had already served his time.

The Observatory recalls that on March 25,2017, at least 58 persons from various human rights groups involved in themonitoring of ongoing peaceful protests were arrested at the office of HRC“Viasna” in Minsk and released shortly after. Member of HRC “Viasna” Mr.Aliaksei Loika was injured during the raid when the special unit police stormedthe premises and remains in the hospital with a skull fracture.

In addition, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka (amember of HRC “Viasna” and President of the Belarusian Human Rights House) wasarrested the next day on March 26, 2017 in Minsk as she was protesting thearrest of her colleagues the day before. She was released several hours lateron the same day. Mr. Aleh Volchek, Head of the Human Rights Center“Legal Assistance to the Population”, was convictedon March 21, 2017 in Minsk for observing the demonstration of March 17, inabsentia, and sentenced to 13 days? He is not currently serving the sentence ashe was absent during the trial which he appealed.

Reportsof ill-treatment of protesters and detainees are very concerning as well as thefact that two human rights defenders are in hospital. Belarusian authoritiesmust ensure peaceful protesters can exercise their freedoms and ensure theirpsychological and physical integrity,concludedGerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

Background information:

Since the beginning of March 2017, peaceful protests have eruptedthroughout the country to oppose Presidential Decree No. 3 “On the preventionof dependency on social aid” that introduced a tax on non-employment.

Peaceful protests were massively repressedwith hundreds of protesters detained by the police Those detained include humanrights defenders, journalists and protesters throughout the country[3].

The Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is toprevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDHand OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union HumanRights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:

· FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: +33672284294

· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau/Miguel Martín: +41228094939


[1] On arbitrary “administrative” detention in Belarus and conditions of detention,see FIDH Report of September 29, 2014: “Arbitrary Preventive Detention ofActivists in Belarus”, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/16113-release-of-a-report-arbitrary-preventive-detention-of-activists-in-belarus

[2] See the Observatory’s Urgent Appeal BLR001 / 0317 / OBS 027.1, March 24, 2017. Mr. Andrei Stryzhak was sentenced to 10 days in jail in absentia, afterhe failed to appear in court. Mr. Oleg Volchek sentenced in absentia isappealing the sentence.

[3] See FIDH Press Release, "Belarus crackdown: more than 200 arrested ordetained in two weeks", March 17, 2017, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/belarus-crackdown-more-than-200-arrested-or-detained-in-two-weeks

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