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August 4 is the Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian Civil Society

2022 2022-08-03T21:34:32+0300 2022-08-04T12:38:59+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The International Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian Civil Society falls on 4 August. The date has been chosen for a reason - it was 4 August 2011, when Ales Bialiatski, the head and founder of the Viasna Human Rights Centre was arrested in Minsk. He was then sentenced to 4.5 years in a colony for the “concealment of income on an especially large scale”. The human rights defender pleaded not guilty stating that all the money on the accounts was applied towards human rights activities. Ales Bialiatski was released under an amnesty in June 2014.

However, the human rights defenders and activists of Belarus continued to experience pressure. In fact, over its entire history, the Viasna Human Rights Centre and its members have been facing persecution and pressure from authorities which keep interfering with their activities, from the cancellation of its registration in 2003 to the arrest of seven Viasna members and the actual expulsion of the organization from the country after the 2020 presidential elections. 

Viasna recalls the history of persecution of human rights defenders connected with the 2020 events, describes how the International Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian Civil Society was celebrated before, and gives information on how to do it today.

2020-2022 unprecedented repressions against Viasna activists

In 2020 alone, 18 members and volunteers of the Viasna Human Rights Centre faced direct persecution and repressions from the Belarusian authorities. They got detained, sentenced to short-term imprisonment, and arrested on criminal charges. The campaign aimed at the intimidation and liquidation of the organization was launched on 31 August 2020 when the volunteer Pavel Garbuz was detained. 10 days later, he was released from the detention facility in Valadarskaya Street and told to give a message to others that "all of them [Viasna activists] will soon find themselves behind bars; the right time is still to come".

Shortly afterwards, Marfa Rabkova, the coordinator of the Viasna Volunteer Service, and two weeks later, the Viasna activist Andrey Chapiuk were detained. They have been held at a detention facility since then. At first, Marfa Rabkova was charged under part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code — "training or instructing other persons to take part in riots or financing of such activities", while Andrey was charged under part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code ("participation in riots"). In the period preceding the court hearings, the scope of charges brought against them was increased dramatically.

Since 25 April 2022, closed court proceedings have been conducted in relation to them. Marfa faces 20 years in a colony, and Andrey faces a term of up to eight years.

Leanid Sudalenka, the head of the Viasna Gomel Branch, was detained in the morning on 18 January 2021, on his way to the office, in the course of investigation within a criminal case initiated under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“group actions causing serious harm to public order”), and put in a temporary detention facility. His assistant Marya Tarasenka was also detained and released three days later on condition not to leave the country. Five days later, the volunteer of the Gomel Branch Tatsiana Lasitsa was detained. 

In Gomel, on 3 November, the political prisoners Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa were sentenced to three years and two and a half years, respectively, including for the assistance they provided to those who suffered from the acts of authorities, with the penalties, court fees and legal expenses to be paid by them as well. On 27 January 2022, Leanid Sudalenka was transferred to "Vitba" penal colony No. 3, and Tatsiana was transferred to Gomel female colony No. 4. They still have 18 months and 12 months, respectively, to serve.

On 16 February, numerous searches were conducted in Minsk and other Belarusian cities at the offices and places of residence of the members of Viasna Human Rights Centre, Belarusian Association of Journalists, REP Independent Trade Union and other civil rights activists. The regional divisions of the Viasna Human Rights Centre in Mogilev, Rechitsa, Mozyr, Brest and its Minsk offices were also raided.

"In the framework of the preceding investigation and for the purpose of establishing facts of the financing of protest activities, the investigation authorities have initiated searches at the offices of organizations which claim themselves to be human rights defenders," this is how the large-scale attack on the civil rights activists was commented by the Investigation Committee.

Many human rights defenders and activists had their hardware confiscated, and the equipment has not been returned since then. According to the allegations made by the state against the human rights defenders under this Article, their assistance to those who suffered from the acts of authorities motivated people to further participate in the protests. 

14 July 2021 became the Black Wednesday for the civil society. On that day, 11 Viasna human rights activists and two former members of Viasna were detained throughout Belarus. Viasna office in Myarzhynskaga Street in Minsk, its office in Grodno and the premises of the Territory of Rights/Terrytoryia Pravou Educational Platform were searched. Six people were put in a temporary detention facility. Three of them are still behind bars. These are Ales Bialiatski, the head of Viasna, his deputy and FIDH vice president Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladz Labkovich, a lawyer and the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign. They have been charged under Article 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion). 

According to the claims made by the state against the human rights defenders, they "failed to duly register the organization they are running as a legal entity and as a taxpayer and did not submit the relevant data to the tax authorities, by which means they withheld the information on the payments made, did not disclose the details of the persons carrying out works (providing services) on behalf of the organization, and avoided being recognized as and performing the duties of a tax agent".

Investigative proceedings in relation to Valiantsin, Ales and Uladz have been prolonged to 14 October; they have been held at Pre-Trial Detention Facility No. 1 for over a year. 

On December 1, 2021, there was a massive attack on Viasna volunteers and court spectators. More than 20 people were searched, after which they were detained and interrogated; Volunteers had to sign non-disclosure agreements, some of them - papers about non-cooperation with Vesna.

In a short period of time, Viasna Telegram channel, and afterwards - website, logo and almost all media products of the human rights organization were declared extremist materials.

Viasna human rights activists state that all the activities of volunteers and members of the organization are exclusively peaceful, human rights in nature and are aimed at helping people who have suffered because of their political views and beliefs, and at protecting human rights in Belarus. Their persecution is seen as a continuation of the campaign of intimidating and pressuring representatives of the Viasna Human Rights Center and the country's entire human rights community. All of this is an arbitrary repressive reaction of the authorities to entirely legitimate, peaceful and open activity to protect, encourage and promote human rights, in particular, to voluntary support of human rights activities and monitoring the compliance to fair justice standards.

Viasna human rights activist Diana Pinchuk notes that the long-term persecution of human rights defenders in the country illustrates the state in which Belarusians find themselves, and the International Day of Solidarity with Civil Society of Belarus is yet another reason to remind this:

“After the release of Ales Bialiatski in 2014, many began to forget the date of August 4, and the Day of Solidarity with Civil Society seems to have ceased to be relevant. But the problem itself has not disappeared. The chairman of Viasna had been granted amnesty and released, but the registration of the organization was not extended and work conditions of human rights activists in Belarus in fact did not improve. Our current situation clearly shows that if we forget and move away from the real causes of political repressions in Belarus, they will resume on an even larger scale. During this time, the repressive machine takes root deeper into the soil and becomes even more powerful and horrifying. In our case, we are talking about the repressive Belarusian totalitarian regime. In 2019, there was one political prisoner - Mikhail Zhemchuzhny - and in fact, few Belarusians could remember his name or even tell if there were any political prisoners in Belarus at all. Now there are 1254 political prisoners throughout the country, and everyone knows about the hundreds of those unjustly arrested.

In 2011 one of the members of Viasna was arrested but now seven human rights activists and Viasna volunteers are behind bars. Most of the members and affiliates of the organization were forced to leave their homeland due to persecution in order to continue their human rights activities and keep helping the repressed Belarusians. We need to fight not only for the release of all political prisoners, meanwhile supporting them, but also for the restoration of justice and the promotion of human rights in Belarus. We must use all possible means to achieve this. The Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian Civil Society is one of the occasions to once again remind the state of our demands to release political prisoners, and the Belarusian and international community that our struggle is not over. “Viasna'' will exist till the very last political prisoner remains behind bars, and justice is restored!”

How the Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian Civil Society was celebrated before

The Day of Solidarity with Civil Society in Belarus has been celebrated in dozens of countries since 2011 for several years. For example, on August 4, 2013 in Vilnius, near the Embassy of Belarus, a powerful rally was held to support the imprisoned head of the Viasna Human Rights Center Ales Bialiatski: people came out wearing masks with his portrait to demonstrate that despite the arrest of the human rights activist, the organization will continue its activities.

After the release of Ales Bialiatski, Solidarity Day continued to be celebrated as an opportunity to once again remind about political prisoners in Belarus. Thus, in subsequent years, on August 4, actions of solidarity and signing of postcards for political prisoners, discussions on human rights, round tables, concerts, documentary film screenings, photo exhibitions, performances and other events were organized.


In 2015, Belarusian and Lithuanian human rights activists, public and political activists, representatives of the Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania and bystanders gathered in the Town Hall Square in Vilnius. MP Linas Balsis, one of the Lithuanian politicians-custodians of Belarusian political prisoners, took part in the action. Mr. Balsis appeared in a T-shirt with a photo of Mikоla Dziadok.

Акцыя 4 жніўня 2015 года. Фота: humanrightshouse

How can you join the solidarity events this year?

  1. Organize an event of solidarity with Belarusian civil society, imprisoned human rights activists and all political prisoners;
  2. Support political prisoners with letters, parcels and money transfers;
  3. Sign the petition for the release of Viasna activists and all political prisoners in Belarus;
  4. Spread the word about political prisoners in social networks with the hashtag #4august #4august #bysoliday #standwithbelarus;
  5. Support Viasna and other Belarusian public organizations and funds to help political prisoners with donations.


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