Key national human rights groups call to end persecution of peaceful protesters, journalists and defenders
In May 2020, the Belarusian authorities began widespread repression against the country’s civil society. More than 120 people were arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to fines and terms of detention across Belarus. The human rights community of Belarus demands an end to the persecution of peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists and journalists and the release of those serving their sentences.
Earlier this month, peaceful protests took place in various Belarusian cities, including rallies in support of environmental activists in Brest, protests of solidarity with arrested blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, and an ‘anti-parade’ in Minsk staged to protest the holding of May 9 celebrations amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The authorities responded to the peaceful protests with multiple arrests.
Between May 6 and May 13:
- about 120 people were arrested: peaceful assembly participants, human rights defenders and journalists;
- the police charges about the same number of people (about 120) with violating the rules of holding street events (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code);
- 50 people were sentenced to 2 to 25 days in jail;
- 20 people received fines totaling 15,741 rubles;
Administrative trials were held in 17 cities of the country, including Minsk, Viciebsk, Homieĺ, Babrujsk, Mahilioŭ, Orša, Pastavy, Polack, Navapolack, Hlybokaje, Viliejka, Hrodna, Lida, Brest, Mazyr, Žlobin, and Marjina Horka.
In particular, after the arbitrary arrest of Siarhei Tsikhanouski on May 6, who earlier announced his decision to run for president, police detained at least 38 people who took to the streets across Belarus to protest his arrest. The protesters were fined or imprisoned for up to 15 days.
On May 8, activists of the Youth Bloc group carried a coffin along Independence Avenue in Minsk to protest the government’s decision to hold a military parade despite the coronavirus pandemic. Shortly before that, activists in Minsk organized another action against the parade: they displayed banners reading “And we are not” against the background of the inscription "The feat of the people is immortal". Four activists were arrested; two of them, Danila Lauretski and Lizaveta Prakopchyk, were sentenced to 13 and 5 days of detention, respectively, under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code for violating the rules of holding rallies.
The authorities also intensified repressions against human rights defenders.
Among those arrested on May 8 was Viasna journalist and activist Aliaksandr Burakou; he was detained for 72 hours before trial, and it was not until May 11 that a court in Mahilioŭ sentenced him to 10 days in prison.
In recent days, police in Brest have arrested several activists immediately after they stood trials for earlier offenses and remanded for further administrative trials. On May 10, human rights activists Uladzimir Vialichkin and Raman Kisliak, who were monitoring a rally against a battery plant, were arrested in Brest. Two days later, they were brought to court and arrested again after the trial. As of May 13, 7 people and human rights activists were held in detention in Brest, awaiting new trials.
Viasna activist in Svietlahorsk, Alena Masliukova, has been facing repression for protecting the right to a healthy environment: a criminal investigation has been launched against the human rights activist. On April 23, Alena Masliukova's apartment was searched and equipment confiscated after a statement by a local citizen Zobava, whom the human rights activist allegedly insulted on social media. Human rights defenders link the criminal prosecution of Alena Masliukova with her role in protesting the work of a bleached pulp plant in Svietlahorsk.
Repressions are also affecting journalists and bloggers.
In particular, on May 9, BelaPAN journalist Ales Asiptsou was arrested in Babrujsk; his whereabouts were unknown for several days after his arrest. Ales Asiptsou was eventually sentenced to 10 days in jail; on May 9, the journalist declared a hunger strike.
Journalist Dzmitry Lupach from Hlybokaje was sentenced on May 11 to 10 days in jail under two articles of the Administrative Code: Art. 22.9 (“Illegal production and distribution of media content”) and Art. 23.34 (“violation of the order of organizing or holding mass events”). After the court hearing, the journalist was taken to an intensive care unit with a hypertensive crisis; but the court did not change the sentence, giving only a reprieve; Dzmitry Lupach is expected to start serving his detention on May 18.
Journalist Mikhail Arshynski was sentenced to a total of 21 days in jail for livestreaming rallies in support of blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski in Mahilioŭ. On May 11, the journalist was sentenced to 10 days in jail for allegedly participating in an unauthorized rally, and on May 12, Arshynski was sentenced to another 11 days in jail.
The human rights community of Belarus considers the mentioned court rulings to be politically motivated. By imposing fines and terms of detention for participating in and covering peaceful protests, the authorities violated the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly provided for in articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The human rights organizations of Belarus:
- express their protest and urge the authorities of Belarus to immediately cease repression against peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists and to release all those serving their sentences;
- call on the authorities to fulfill their responsibilities in the field of human rights, which follow from the international norms ratified by the Republic of Belarus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian PEN Center
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Legal Transformation Center
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Initiative Group “Identity and Law”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Documentation Center