The Viasna Human Rights Center strongly condemns the designation of Viasna Homieĺ as an extremist group
On August 9, 2023, the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus labeled Viasna Homieĺ as an extremist group. This arbitrary decision criminalizes association with Viasna Homieĺ and its online platforms: any lawful contact with the online resources specified in the decision may be deemed as promoting extremist activity and could result in criminal charges—including imprisonment.
Homieĺskaja Viasna, mentioned in the Committee's decision, is a human rights website of Homieĺ and Homieĺ region, which has been operating for seven years. The website promotes human rights, reports on violations of civil, political, socio-economic, cultural, and environmental rights, and provides guidance on defending one's rights in government agencies and courts.
We view the Committee's decision as another move in a widespread policy by Belarusian authorities to misuse undemocratic anti-extremism laws to target the media, civil society organizations, and other pro-democracy entities.
As the human rights community has previously noted, national legislation on countering extremism is broadly and vaguely worded, giving excessive discretion to state agencies and allowing them to enforce legal provisions for political repression arbitrarily. The government justifies these actions with contrived reasons of national security and public order, labeling peaceful human rights organizations as extremist organizations, while the real motive is to suppress dissent and retaliate for human rights advocacy.
It's important to highlight that decisions to label entities as extremist groups are made administratively and outside the court system by either the State Security Committee or the Ministry of Internal Affairs without presenting clear grounds for such decisions to the public. The simplified mechanism for labeling organizations as extremist, combined with the lack of access to information and judicial protection for citizens, endangers any form of community organizing and solidarity, especially in response to grave human rights violations.
We assert that the designation of Viasna Homieĺ and other organizations as extremist groups constitutes an unlawful restriction on the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, as it pursues illegitimate objectives and does not align with Belarus's international human rights obligations.
Given the above, we demand the Belarusian authorities:
- Rescind the decision to label Viasna Homieĺ and other Belarusian civil society organizations and initiatives as extremist entities. Also, to stop the practice of designating organizations and initiatives as extremist without reasonable and proportionate grounds, as well as the trend of classifying materials aimed at informing the public about the human rights situation as extremist.
- Revise the legislation on countering extremism to ensure it complies with international human rights standards.