Belarus denies allegations of arbitrary detention of woman human rights defenders
The Belarusian government has replied to a October 23 joint letter by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls concerning the alleged arbitrary detention of and judicial proceedings against woman human rights defenders Marina Dubina, Irina Sukhiy, and Maria Rabkova.
In an official reply, Belarusian officials justify the administrative detention of Dubina and Sukhiy, and the criminal arrest of Rabkova as lawful, referring to the offenses the human rights activists allegedly committed.
However, the government ignored reports of using clearly illegal means by the police officers who detained them, as well as the many procedural flaws reported by the activists.
In particular, tear gas was used to detain Marina Dubina, Executive Director of Ecohome, in central Minsk on September 8. Moreover, the charges she later faced contradicted reality, as on that date the activist was in a different city, Brest. The judge chose to ignore the fact and sentenced Dubina to 13 days in prison.
Irina Sukhiy, chairperson of Ecohome’s board, was detained on September 6 over her involvement in a peaceful all-women solidarity march on August 29.
Sukhiy was arrested by unidentified men in plain clothes, who searched her apartment and seized a laptop computer and a hard drive, along with other items. Her daughter’s apartment was also searched. The human rights defender was eventually sentenced to 5 days in prison.
Maria (Marfa) Rabkova, volunteer coordinator at the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was arrested on September 17 in Minsk. She and her husband were attacked by officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK). The GUBOPiK officers proceeded to physically assault the woman human rights defender and her husband, pushing their faces into the ground.
Thereafter, Ms. Rabkova and her husband were separated and placed in different minivans by the officers. The human rights defender’s husband was driven to the couple’s home, where the arresting officers conducted a search, seizing personal belongings from the couple, including documents, money and their mobile phones. He was subsequently driven to the GUBOPiK headquarters where he was hooded, questioned, and threatened with being placed in a temporary detention center. He was eventually released later the same day.
Ms. Rabkova was brought to Akrestsina Street Detention Centre where she was interrogated and detained. She was subjected to further questioning the following day, before subsequently being transferred to Valadarski Street Detention Centre No. 1 where she is currently being held. Her lawyer was not present for either incidences of questioning.
On 25 September 2020, Ms. Rabkova was formally indicted under article 293(3) of the Criminal Code, “training or otherwise preparing people for taking part in mass disorders”. The article carries a possible penalty of between six months and three years in prison.
Ms. Rabkova had previously received threats, including by members of the GUBOPiK, in relation to her human rights work.