Statement: detained "Viasna" members and social activists are political prisoners
Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations
Minsk, 15 July 2021
On 14 July 2021, another attack on civil society took place: searches, interrogations, and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists, civil activists, and members of non-profit organizations were carried out throughout Belarus.
Searches were carried out in the offices of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", Belarusian Association of Journalists, public organization "Imena", Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, "For Freedom!" movement, World Association of Belarusians "Baćkaŭščyna", BEROC Center for Economic Research, Gender Initiative, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, public organization Union of Belarusian Writers, Belarusian Popular Front party, United Civic Party, the Rights Territory space, etc.
After searches, the following human rights defenders and activists were detained:
- Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer at "Viasna"
- Nina Labkovich, director of the Angels Band association of investors
- Valiantsin Stefanovich, member of the "Viasna" Board
- Ales Bialiatski, head of "Viasna"
- Siarhei Sys, human rights defender and journalist at "Viasna"
- Alena Laptsionak, "Viasna" human rights defender
- Andrei Paluda, "Viasna" human rights defender
- Yauheniya Babayeva, human rights defender
- Viktar Sazonau, "Viasna" human rights defender
- Mikalai Sharakh, head of a Free Trade Union, Polack chapter
- Siarhei Matskevich, Center "Supolnasc"
It is obvious that the motive of their persecution is their activity in the sphere of rights defense: promotion of international human rights standards and democratic values, actions in defense of the right to life, freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and association, the right to a fair trial and freedom from torture.
Therefore, we consider their prosecution and imprisonment to be politically motivated, related to their non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and them as political prisoners under paragraph 3.1(b) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoner.
The persecution of civil society in Belarus, from August 2020 to the present day, has taken on an unprecedented scale. Belarus has not seen such mass repression since its independence. As of the date of issuing the statement, more than 500 people in Belarus have been recognized as political prisoners, at least 1,500 people are in prison, and thousands of people are under investigation on politically motivated charges. During the year since August 2020, almost 40,000 people have been illegally detained and many were tortured. Major independent media outlets have been blocked.
Repressions of this scale are aimed at destroying not only human rights and non-profit organizations but also any manifestations of social activism in Belarus.
The reality of this threat is confirmed by the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Uladzimir Makei, who announced the prospect of the destruction of civil society in the case of increasing sanctions, by the statement of the deputy head of the KGB investigation department that "a clearance operation against radical individuals in Belarus" is underway, and finally by the statement of Aliaksandr Lukashenka about a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation".
The Belarusian human rights community strongly protests another wave of relentless repression of civil society in Belarus. Despite the unheard-of pressure, our organizations will continue to promote human rights in Belarus.
We demand the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the above-mentioned political prisoners and stop their criminal prosecution, stop the repression, and release all political prisoners.
We call on international organizations and human rights defenders of all countries to strongly protest against the gross human rights violations in Belarus and to demand from the authorities of their countries to insist on the immediate release of all Belarusian political prisoners.
Human Rights Center "Viasna";
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Belarusian PEN Center;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;
Belarusian Documentation Center;
Initiative Group "Identity and Law";
Belarusian Association of Journalists.