Belarusian authorities must cease attacks on human rights defenders and journalists
The Human Rights House Foundation is observing with increasing concern the wave of arrests and disappearances of human rights defenders and journalists across Belarus. Against the backdrop of worrying increases in COVID-19 infections and the August 2020 Presidential elections, the actions by Belarusian authorities to intimidate human rights defenders and limit the spread of information by independent journalists are alarming.
HRHF calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately:
- Cease the arbitrary detention and arrest of human rights defenders and journalists;
- Stop criminal investigations against human rights defenders Alena Masliukova and Andrei Miadzvedzeu;
- Free all human rights defenders and journalists who have been arrested or detained, including Roman Kislyak, Uladzimir Vialichkin, Aliaksander Burakou, Ales Asiptsou, Dzmitry Lupach, and Mikhail Arshynski.
Despite calls on Belarusian authorities from the UN Human Rights Committee to criminalize forced disappearances, HRHF is seeing troubling reports of increases in disappearances of human rights defenders in the country. On May 10, human rights defenders, Uladzimir Vialichkin and Roman Kislyak disappeared after observing peaceful environmental protests in Brest. Authorities did not confirm their detention for two days. Such methods of detention are illegal under international human rights law.
May has been a particularly troubling time for human rights in Belarus. On May 12 alone, more than 25 court hearings took place across Belarus against human rights defenders for joining in peaceful protests, according to the Human Rights Centre Viasna, a member of the Belarusian Human Rights House. Just this week, Viasna reported the arrests of at least 120 peaceful protestors challenging recent detentions by Belarusian authorities against opposition figures. These actions, less than three months before the scheduled 9 August 2020 Presidential elections, follow patterns observers have seen in past Presidential election cycles in Belarus.
According to another member of the Belarusian Human Rights House, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, administrative arrests have taken place against independent journalists attempting to report on recent peaceful protests against the May 9 miliary parade and attacks on opposition political figures by Belarusian authorities. Belarusian law entitles journalists access to peaceful protests and the right to cover them. Any attempts by the Belarusian authorities to silence free and independent media should cease immediately and authorities must ensure the freedom of expression for all people in Belarus.
HRHF condemns the actions by Belarusian authorities to limit the spread of information about COVID-19, stop peaceful protests, and attack human rights defenders and journalists. These trends appear designed to intimidate and limit independent civil society. HRHF stands in solidarity with Belarusian human rights defenders and independent journalists during this critical time.