Ongoing harassment of Viasna members

2021 2021-03-27T16:14:14+0300 2021-03-27T16:14:15+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The authorities continue to summon and interrogate human rights defenders and journalists as part of a criminal investigation dubbed “The Viasna Case”.  Over the past week, a dozen more activists have been questioned as witnesses in the case alleging Viasna’s involvement in the financing of the post-election protests.

Most of those forced to give statements are members of Viasna’s network of human rights activists working in Minsk and in fifteen other cities across Belarus.

On March 19, the Investigative Committee’s office in Minsk questioned Andrei Paluda, human rights activist leading Viasna’s campaign “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus”.

Another activist working with Viasna’s central office, Natallia Satsunkevich, was ordered to appear for questioning on the same day.

On March 20, officers interrogated Viktar Sazonau and Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Viasna’s representatives in Hrodna, together with local human rights activist Andrei Kotsia.

Hrodna human rights activists Raman Yurhel, Viktar Sazonau, Andrei Kotsia and Uladzimir Khilmanovich
Hrodna human rights activists Raman Yurhel, Viktar Sazonau, Andrei Kotsia and Uladzimir Khilmanovich

On March 22, Aleh Matskevich, a member of Viasna based in Barysaŭ, gave a statement in his second interrogation since March 10.

On March 23, investigators in Orša questioned Viasna activist Ihar Kazmerchak and local journalist Ales Sivy.

On March 24, Larysa Shchyrakova, an independent journalist, was questioned in Homieĺ.

On the same day, March 24, Vaisna activist Ales Dzerhachou was interrogated in Smarhoń.

On March 25, several activists of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” were summoned to local offices of the Investigative Committee in Mahilioŭ, Rečyca, Baranavičy and Mazyr.

All of them were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Authorities step up pressure on Viasna activists

The criminal investigation into Viasna’s activities was launched after a nationwide attack on human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society members on February 16. Nearly a hundred homes and offices were raided by the police who seized IT equipment, documents and money.

Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, stresses that the activists have been forced to provide information about the organization's activities under the threat of criminal liability for refusing to testify or for giving false testimony.

“At the same time, as suggested by the official comments of the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nearly all members of the organization are suspected of allegedly financing illegal protest actions through Viasna under the guise of human rights activities. In this regard, I would like to remind that Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus guarantees the right not to incriminate themselves,” Stefanovich said.

The human rights activist draws attention to the fact that every member of Viasna is a potential suspect in the case, which means that they cannot be interrogated as witnesses. This is directly prohibited by Article 60 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“We strongly protest against the violation of the rights of members of our organization and call for an immediate end to the criminal prosecution of Viasna. We view this as pressure and revenge against the Human Rights Center “Viasna” for its many years of active human rights work,” Viasna vice-chairman said.

Human rights defenders continue to demand the release of Viasna members and volunteers Marfa Rabkova, Leanid Sudalenka, Andrei Chapiuk and Tatsiana Lasitsa, as well as fellow human rights defenders from the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski and Siarhei Drazdouski.