The Observatory calls to quash the sentences of Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk, and Nasta Loika
Paris-Geneva, September 7, 2022
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed about the sentencing of Ms. Maria (a.k.a Marfa) Rabkova, Coordinator of the volunteer service of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", and Mr. Andrey Chapiuk, a volunteer of Viasna, as well as the arbitrary arrest and sentencing of human rights defender Ms. Nasta Loika.
On September 6, 2022, after four months and a half of closed court hearings, the Minsk City Court sentenced Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk to 15 and six years in prison, respectively. The eight other defendants featured in the same trial were also sentenced to heavy prisons terms. These sentences can be appealed.
On the same day, following the verdict, Nasta Loika, who was at the Minsk City Court for the announcement of the verdict, was in turn arbitrarily arrested. On September 7, 2022 she has been tried for the trumped-up charges of “petty hooliganism” and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest.
The Observatory recalls that Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk were arbitrarily detained on September 17, 2020 and October 2, 2020, respectively, in retaliation for their peaceful human rights activities. Marfa Rabkova has been detained in pre-trial detention center №1 on Volodarskogo Street in Minsk since her arrest, where her health has deteriorated considerably due to the lack of adequate medical care.
On April 25, 2022, the closed-door trial against Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk and eight other individuals opened before the Minsk City Court. All defendants were falsely accused of organising criminal groups between 2016 and 2020. Marfa Rabkova was charged under ten articles of the Criminal Code, including “organising mass riots", participating therein and training or other preparation of persons to participate therein (Parts 1 to 3 of Art. 293), “inciting social hostility to the government” (Art. 130) and “involvement in a criminal organisation” (Part 2 of Art. 285). For his part, Andrey Chapiuk was charged with "participating in mass riots" (Part 2 Art. 293 of the Criminal Code) and "involvement in a criminal organisation" (Part 2 of Art. 285 of the same Code).
The Observatory recalls that in August 2021, Nasta Loika was already arbitrarily detained for 72 hours as part of the crackdown on Viasna and more broadly Belarus human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations following the coordinated raids and arbitrary arrests that started on July 14, 2021.
Alongside them, five other Viasna members have been arbitrarily detained for more than a year, namely Mr. Ales Bialiatski, head of Viasna, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovic, member of Viasna’s Board and Vice-President of FIDH, Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer and coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, Mr. Leanid Sudalenka, lawyer of the Homieĺ (Gomel) branch of Viasna, and volunteer Ms. Tatsiana Lasitsa.
The Observatory further recalls that the reprisals against Viasna and its members are part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Belarus. In 2021 alone, the authorities shut down more than 275 human rights and other independent organisations, leaving not one legally operating human rights NGO in the country. In addition, legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 re-introduced criminal liability for "acting on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations". The liquidation of all independent human rights organisations by the authorities has therefore led to a de facto criminalisation of human rights work. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, enshrined in international human rights instruments, including in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Belarus, have been severely and continuously violated by the authorities in recent years, which has had a chilling effect on civil society in the country.
The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing of Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk, as well as the arbitrary arrest and sentencing of Nasta Loika, which seem to be in retaliation for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory urges the authorities to quash Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk and Nasta Loika’s sentences and to immediately and unconditionally release them as well as all Viasna members and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk, Nasta Loika, as well as of all Viasna members and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Quash the sentences of Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk and Nasta Loika;
iii. Immediately and unconditionally release Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapiuk and Nasta Loika, and put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them as well as all Viasna members and all human rights defenders in Belarus, and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance or fear of reprisals,
iv. Ensure an enabling legal, institutional, and administrative environment that effectively guarantees the right to defend human rights, the right to freedom of association, and protects human rights defenders in Belarus.