Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemns new charges against Viasna coordinator Marfa Rabkova
February 15, 2021
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
The Observatory has been informed about the new criminal charges against 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 post-election demonstrations in Belarus.
On February 11, 2021, the Investigative Committee of Belarus charged Maria (Marfa) Rabkova with “incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord, committed by a group of persons or resulting by negligence in the death of a person or other grave consequences” and “involvement in a criminal organization” (Art. 130.3 and Art. 285.2 of the Belarus Criminal Code).
These new charges come five months after Rabkova’s arrest on September 17, 2020 and are an apparent attempt to justify her pre-trial detention, as the initial period of investigation expires on February 16, 2021.
The Observatory recalls that Ms. Rabkova has been held in pre-trial detention in Detention Center №1 on Volodarskogo Street in Minsk since her arrest on charges of “training or other preparation of persons for the participation in mass riots, or financing of such activities" (Article 293.3 of the Belarus Criminal Code). If found guilty, she could face up to a total of 12 years in prison.
The Observatory notes that those charges came hours after the Belarus’ state TV channel published a story linking Viasna and, in particular Ms. Rabkova, with alleged terrorist activities.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over Ms. Rabkova’s ongoing arbitrary 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, 2020 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 condemns the ongoing persecution of Viasna members, including Leanid Sudalenka, Maria Tarasenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Maryna Kastylianchanka and Aliaksandr Paplauski as well as of all local human rights groups and human rights defenders who document abuses and provide legal and other assistance to victims in Belarus.
The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances Ms. 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 Maria Rabkova, as well as of all Viasna members and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. ReleaseMaria Rabkova immediately and unconditionally, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities;
iii. Guarantee the unhindered access of Maria Rabkova to a lawyer of her choice and to her family members;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Maria Rabkova as well as all organisations engaged in human rights activities in Belarus, including Viasna, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.
· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.