Viasna's statement in connection with the start of “special proceedings” and the toughening of accusations against our colleagues
Statement of Human Rights Center Viasna
September 30, 2022
In September, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus significantly toughened the charges against three human rights defenders who have been detained since July 14, 2021: Viasna chairman Mr. Ales Bialiatski, member of the Viasna Board and Vice-President of the FIDH Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovic, and lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich. A so-called “special proceeding” was initiated against Viasna member Mr. Dzmitry Salauyou, who is outside of Belarus under international protection. The proceedings provide for preliminary investigation and trial in the absence of the accused.
The accusations against our colleagues are related to their human rights activity, their assistance to victims of politically motivated persecution as part of the Viasna work, and are the result of Viasna registration and re-registration denial which was twice considered by the UN Human Rights Committee as a violation of the right to freedom of association.
We note with indignation that Mr. Bialiatski, Mr. Stefanovich, and Mr. Labkovich have spent more than 12 months in detention—without meetings or telephone conversations with their families—on charges of tax evasion, which the Investigative Committee has now completely abandoned.
We also emphasize that Mr. Salauyou became a victim of arbitrary detention and subsequent torture, followed by arbitrary imprisonment, cruel, inhuman, and humiliating treatment, and denial of medical treatment for his injuries in February 2021. He had to leave Belarus for fear of further arbitrary persecution and denial of justice.
Another attack on Viasna by the totalitarian regime is taking place against the background of the sentencing to 15 and 6 years in prison of coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer network Ms. Marfa Rabkova and volunteer Mr. Andrei Chapiuk, and the imprisonment of the head of Viasna Homieĺ branch Mr. Leanid Sudalenka. Human rights defender Mr. Uladzimir Tseliapun from Mazyr and human rights defender Ms. Nasta Loika who was detained after the announcement of the verdict in the case of Ms. Rabkova and Mr. Chapiuk are under administrative arrest.
In response to these events, the Human Rights Center Viasna once again declares:
Human Rights Center Viasna defends human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus by peaceful means, as guaranteed both by the country's Constitution and international human rights standards. We vehemently reject any pressure and persecution of members of our organization and other human rights defenders for carrying out these activities and regard it as politically motivated persecution.
We declare that the true motivation for the persecution of our colleagues is the struggle for human rights and democratic values, against torture and prohibited treatment, and the actions in defense of the right to life, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly, which we share with the entire Belarusian human rights community in Belarus and international human rights organizations.
Absentia proceedings in criminal cases ultimately deprive the accused of their fundamental rights consistent with the international obligations of Belarus, including the right to a defense, laying the groundwork for an unjust verdict.
We strongly protest the continuing repression against members of the organization and against civil society in Belarus as a whole and declare that we will not stop our human rights activities.
We demand the immediate release of Mr. Ales Bialiatski, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovic, Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich, Ms. Marfa Rabkova, Mr. Leanid Sudalenka, Mr. Andrei Chapiuk, Mr. Uladzimir Tseliapun, and Ms. Nasta Loika, to stop the repression and to release all political prisoners.