UN experts: Belarus must release all detainees held on political grounds and protect their rights
GENEVA (30 May 2023) – UN experts today called on Belarusian authorities to immediately release all prisoners in the country detained on spurious charges for exercising their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression.
“The practice of incommunicado detention of members of the political opposition and prominent figures sentenced to lengthy prison terms for voicing dissent increased in 2023,” the experts said.
The Viasna Human Rights Centre reported that 1,511 people [The number here indicates recognized political prisoners, the number of detainees exceeds it by several times. — Viasna's note] have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2020. It has also documented an average of 17 arbitrary arrests and detentions a day.
While Belarusian prisons are notorious for substandard conditions, civil society organisations continue to document the systematic discriminatory placement of persons detained on politically motivated grounds in even harsher conditions than the general prison population.
“This arbitrary practice appears to have a systemic character,” the experts said.
The harsh conditions of detention have reportedly had a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the detainees, including Mr Siarhei Tsikhanouski, Ms Maria Kalesnikava, Mr Viktar Barbaryka and Mr Maksim Znak, whose cases were documented* by the experts. The prisoners were reportedly denied access to timely and appropriate medical examinations and treatment, adequate legal representation and prevented from contacting their families.
“Incommunicado detention – with a risk of enforced disappearance – is indicative of a strategy to punish political opponents and hide evidence of their ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement and prison authorities,” the experts said.
They deplored the lack of independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these allegations of inhuman treatment and other human rights violations, as well as the failure to provide effective remedies to detainees and their families.
“The unprecedented level of repression must stop,” the experts said. “The international community must demand that Belarus comply with its international human rights obligations to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims of human rights violations.”
- Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus;
- Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;
- Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
- Margaret Satterthwaite Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers;
- Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.;
- Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances;
- Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett(Vice-Chair on Communications), Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila, Working Group on arbitrary detention;
- Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
- Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association