#FreeViasna: Weekly news digest on Viasna’s imprisoned human rights defenders
On September 17, #FreeViasna campaign of solidarity with the imprisoned Viasna members was launched. Here’s the latest news about them.
Anaïs Marin: Seven members of Viasna continue to be detained arbitrarily
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, paid special attention to the imprisoned Viasna human rights defenders in her next report, which will be presented at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Thus, Anaïs Marin demanded to release the coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer network Marfa Rabkova:
“Considering the appalling conditions of detention and the lack of adequate medical care, the Special Rapporteur has called for the immediate release of the human rights defender Marfa Rabkova and some 60 other persons in arbitrary detention to avert serious risk to their health.”
The Special Rapporteur is concerned by the authorities’ policy of reprisals and judicial harassment against civil society organizations and individual human rights defenders. The 2021 annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights details two cases of reprisals, against the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Viasna Human Rights Centre.
“During the reporting period, security officers conducted raids and searches at the offices of civil society organizations seen as defiant of the Government’s policies. The authorities were particularly targeting human rights organizations, such as the Viasna Human Rights Centre, whose offices in various cities of Belarus were repeatedly searched and whose staff members were detained.” Uladzimir Labkovich, a Viasna lawyer, and Valiantsin Stefanovich, a Viasna board member, were detained following searches at their homes. Furthermore, Ales Bialiatski, the head and founder of Viasna, was arrested on 14 July 2021. Seven members of Viasna continue to be detained arbitrarily, including five who are in pretrial detention,” the Special Rapporteur noted.
Valiantsin Stefanovich: It is impossible to continue our work in Belarus without the threat of going to jail again
In his letters, Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of Viasna and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), reflected on the trial in the Viasna case, the future, and the work of human rights activists in Belarus.
“It seems impossible to continue our work in Belarus without the threat of going to jail again. We are back in the days of the late Brezhnev, somewhere in the early 80s. That's how it seems to me here.”
Valiantsin also mentioned his mental state and the feeling of support:
“When I go for a walk, I always look up at the sky and look for seagulls. They are so silvery, beautiful and free, flying through the blue spring sky. All your friendly support and greetings comes to me with them.”
Artists support imprisoned Viasna members
In April 2022, Sasha Konakova, an illustrator from St. Petersburg, launched Project Peace. She offered to exchange portraits for money in support of Ukrainians. Marfa Ravkova's friend Hanna offered their portrait with the cats. Hanna and Marfa met about seven years ago; together they were engaged in animal protection.
“I just admire human rights defenders and am very grateful for what they do, they are strong and brave people. I'm not that brave. But I'm glad that a piece of them, very important and meaningful one, is in my poster. It warms my heart,” shared illustrator Sasha Konakova.
You can download the poster in large resolution, as well as the portrait showing Marfa with her cat Morpheus, and print it out as a postcard.
Artist Natallia Harlukovich joined Free Postcards campaign in support of Valiantsin Stefanovich. She draw the adventures of the Kisun-the-Cat, a character made up by Valiantsin.
On June 14 it will be 11 months since Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich were detained for their peaceful human rights activities.
Marfa Rabkova: There must be a place not only for Orwell but for J. K. Rowling as well
In a recent letter, coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer network Martha Rabkova shared her thoughts on incarceration:
“I try not to think about how much time I have already spent in prison. I keep all such thoughts to myself in order not to get upset unnecessarily. It’s all counterproductive. We have to believe that things will change. […] We live between Yegor Letov and George Orwell, but there must be a place for J. K. Rowling as well, where good will surely win in the end.”
Marfa Rabkova’s friend Hanna brought her on ‘tour’ to London:
“I had an idea to make such a route around the city, as if Masha was not in prison, but came to visit. I would take her to my favorite places: the oldest marketplace, the bridge from Harry Potter, and Tower Bridge,” the girl shared.
The trial of Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuk continues
About 30 hearings have already taken place in the Minsk Municipal Court on the case of the coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer network Marfa Rabkova, volunteer Andrei Chapiuk and eight political prisoners and activists of the anarchist movement. The case is heard by Judge Siarhei Khrypach, the state prosecution is supported by Raman Biziuk.
Altogether, political prisoners are charged under ten articles of the Criminal Code. Three of them, including Marfa Rabkova, are characterized by the Investigative Committee as “organizers and leaders of a number of organized criminal groups that had independent units in the regions of Belarus with their own leaders”.
The trial was closed on the first day. The case contains 160 volumes. It is known that witnesses in the case are being interrogated now.
Human rights defenders' correspondence still restricted
The correspondence of the head of Viasna Homieĺ branch Leanid Sudalenka (sentenced to three years of imprisonment) and volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa (sentenced to 2.5 years) deteriorated significantly since they were transferred to penal colonies.
There was no news from Viasna Chairperson Ales Bialiatski and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich last week.