Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemns Brest arrests
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin, an environmental rights defender and member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” (HRC “Viasna”), as well as other 17 environmental defenders, in the context of the repression of an environmental protest movement against the construction of a battery plant in Brest.
According to the information received, on April 12, 2019, Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin was arrested at the Lieninski police department in Brest, after being summoned by the police to appear at the precinct. Nine other environmental defenders—Ms. Katsiaryna Basarhina and Messrs. Dzmitry Andrasiuk, Uladzimir Kazlouski, Dzianis Malashenka, Siarhei Svirski, Uladzislau Abramovich, Aleh Yarmolenka, Dziamyan Lepiasevich, and Aleh Vialau—were arrested at the Lieninski police department on the same day. Mr. Dzmitry Andrasiuk and Ms. Katsiaryna Basarhina were released several hours after the arrests. Others spent three days in a temporary detention facility of the department.
At least eight other protesters—Ms. Tatsiana Fesikava and Messrs. Aliaksandr Kabanau, Dzmitry Bekaliuk, Ales Abliak, Yahor Kandratsiuk, Vital Kazak, Viktar Sendzer, and Mikalai Tratsiuk—were arrested on April 14, 2019, while they were protesting on Brest’s Lenin Square against the construction of the battery plant.
According to the information received, Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin and most of the other protesters were arrested under Article 23.34 of the Belarus Code of Administrative offences for violating the procedure for organizing or holding mass events. The charges are related to the protest along Brest’s Savieckaja Street on April 7, 2019, during which people chanted slogans against the construction of the plant.
The hearings in the cases of all 18 defenders took place at the Lieninski police department in Brest, on April 15, 2019. Media and human rights defenders were not allowed to attend the hearings as observers. As a result, the Court postponed the consideration of cases of those arrested on April 12. Three protesters were fined.
The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time Messrs. Uladzimir Vialichkin, Aliaksandr Kabanau and Vital Kazak are arrested and that other human rights defenders have been targeted for their participation in protests against this battery plant in Brest, such as Mr. Raman Kisliak. It emphasises that the Belarusian legislation violates the right to peaceful assembly by unjustifiably prohibiting citizens to hold peaceful assemblies without authorisation. In Belarus, the authorities routinely reject requests to hold peaceful assemblies related to practically any human rights or other societal issue, either without providing adequate reason or by referring to the law that requires organisers to ensure first medical aid during the event and to subsequently clean the event venue.
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Messrs. Uladzimir Vialichkin and all the other 17 environmental defenders above mentioned, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and assembly.