Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemns arbitrary detention of Viasna members Leanid Sudalenka and Maria Tarasenka
January 20, 2021
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
The Observatory has been informed by the Human Rights Center “Viasna” about the arbitrary detention of Leanid Sudalenka, lawyer of the Homieĺ (Gomel) branch of Viasna, and Maria Tarasenka, Viasna’s volunteer and Mr. Sudalenka’s assistant. Mr. Sudalenka works on documenting human rights violations and has helped Belarusian citizens to prepare over 84 individual complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee. Leanid Sudalenka is a laureate of the 2018 “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.
On January 18, 2021, the Investigative Committee of Belarus detained Leanid Sudalenka as part of a criminal case under Article 342 of the Belarus Criminal Code (“organising or preparing actions that grossly violate the public order or taking active part in such actions”). At the time of publication of this urgent appeal, Mr. Sudalenka’s status in the case, as well as the exact offence of Article 342 with which he is charged remain unknown. If convicted, Leanid Sudalenka could face up to three years of imprisonment (under Article 342 of the Criminal Code).
Leanid Sudalenka was detained in the morning of January 18, 2021 in Homieĺ, while he was on his way to the office, and taken to the Investigative Committee for an interrogation. His defense lawyer was not able to see Mr. Sudalenka at the Investigative Committee before 17.30 on this same day. There, Mr. Sudalenka felt unwell and someone had to call him an ambulance. At the time of publication of this urgent appeal, Mr. Sudalenka is being held in the temporary detention facility of the Department of Internal Affairs in Homieĺ.
Later in the evening, Maria Tarasenka was also detained in Homieĺ. Law enforcement officials searched her apartment and she was placed in a preliminary detention center. Her status in this case remains unknown. Law enforcement officials summoned witnesses in this criminal case for January 19, 2021.
On January 12, 2021, journalist and human rights activist Andrei Aleksandrov and his partner Iryna Zlobina were arrested in Minsk by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on similar charges for helping victims of repression. They are accused under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code for financing protests by paying fines to protesters. However, they were placed in a pre-trial detention center, which is not provided for under this Article. They face up to 6 months of detention, or two years of imprisonment (Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus reads as follows: “Training or other form of preparing individuals to take part in group actions that breach public order, as well as financing or other material backing of similar activities unless elements of a more serious crime are present – is punishable with up to 6 months of detention, or two years of imprisonment”).
According to Gennady Kazakevich, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs - Head of the Criminal Police, since August 2020, Mr. Aleksandrov and Ms. Zlobina have been "financing persons who took part in the protests in Minsk, including by paying fines.” He notes further that Mr. Aleksandrov paid 250 fines between August 22 and November 9, 2020. The lists of beneficiaries and the funds to pay fines were transferred to Mr. Aleksandrov by the foundation BY_help, an initiative of Belarus Diaspora and Belarus citizens that collects donations to support victims of repressions.
Commenting on the detention of Andrei Aleksandrov, Gennady Kazakevich highlighted that the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus (GUBOPiK) “had completed an investigation into the similar facts of financing of protests by an unregistered public organization”. The Observatory considers this as a direct threat to all organizations that are engaged in legitimate human rights activities in Belarus by helping victims of the violent repression ongoing in Belarus.
The Observatory recalls that Leanid Sudalenka was interrogated and his office was searched on January 5, 2021, by officers of the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in connection with a criminal case opened earlier in December 2020 against a Homieĺ opposition activist Uladzimir Nepomniashchykh, where Leanid Sudalenka is figuring as a witness.
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary detention of Leanid Sudalenka, Maria Tarasenka, Andrei Aleksandrov and Iryna Zlobina which seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory further condemns the persecution of local human rights groups who document abuses and provide legal and other assistance to victims, and of other Belarus human rights defenders, including Maria Rabkova, volunteer coordinator of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, who is facing between six months and three years in prison for her legitimate human rights work under article 293.3 of the Belarus Criminal Code ("training or other preparation of persons for the participation in mass riots, or financing of such activities").
The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Leanid Sudalenka and other human rights defenders, including Andrei Aleksandrov, Iryna Zlobina and Maria Rabkova, and to drop all charges against them.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Leanid Sudalenka, Maria Tarasenka, Andrei Aleksandrov, Iryna Zlobina and Maria Rabkova as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Leanid Sudalenka, Maria Tarasenka, Andrei Aleksandrov, Iryna Zlobina and Maria Rabkova as their detention is arbitrary and the criminal charges against them seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities, as well as all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Leanid Sudalenka, Maria Tarasenka, Andrei Aleksandrov, Iryna Zlobina, Maria Rabkova and all other human rights defenders in Belarus, as well as all organizations engaged in legitimate human rights activities in Belarus, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: email@example.com;
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, January 20, 2021