Freedom for human rights activists Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka!
Minsk – January 20, 2021
On January 18, police detained Leanid Sudalenka, human rights activist and chairman of the Homieĺ branch of the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
He is currently a suspect in a criminal case under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization or active participation in group actions which gravely breach public order) and has been remanded in a detention center.
On January 5, the civil and political community center “Palesskaya, 52”, where Viasna’s office is located, was raided by the police. The search lasted for over 9 hours. During the entire raid, Leanid Sudalenka was in the office. After the search, he was taken to the local department for organized crime, but later released. A search was also carried out in his house.
The same evening, Leanid Sudalenka’s assistant and Viasna’s volunteer Maryia Tarasenka was detained and placed in a detention center. Her house was also searched. Tarasenka’s status in the case and the charges she is facing are still unknown.
Leanid Sudalenka is a well-known human rights activist who has been defending human rights for 20 years, providing free legal assistance, including in preparing individual complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Belarusian nationals whose rights were violated by the government. For his human rights work, he was awarded the prestigious prize of the French Republic “Freedom-Equality-Brotherhood” in 2018. In 2019, he became the winner of the National Human Rights Prize in the nomination “Human Rights Defender of the Year”.
The Belarusian authorities have regularly persecuted Leanid Sudalenka for his active human rights activities: they staged unsuccessful provocations to prosecute him, blacklisted him or border control and tried to discredit him through publications on government-controlled websites and in loyal media.
The current criminal prosecution of Sudalenka and Tarasenka is taking place against the background of unprecedented mass political repression and a profound human rights crisis in Belarus, which has already affected thousands of Belarusians. Representatives of the country’s human rights community are no exception, as they are also subjected to repression and intimidation in connection with their human rights activities.
In particular, Marfa Rabkova, volunteer coordinator of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, and Viasna volunteer Andrei Chapiuk are still in pre-trial detention, while other human rights activists have been subjected to administrative persecution.
In this regard, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, once again note the following:
According to article 1 of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 53/144 of December 9, 1998) , everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.
Human rights activities are a legitimate public activity, and harassment for such activities is an absolutely unacceptable and gross violation of human rights by the authorities.
Based on this, we consider the persecution of Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka to be politically motivated, as it is only aimed at stopping their public and non-violent activities seeking the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka are therefore political prisoners, according to paragraph 3.1 (b) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka and drop the criminal charges they are facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners and put an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities