HRHF: Crackdown by Belarusian Authorities on Opposition Figures, Peaceful Protesters, and Journalists
Since June 18, 2020, according to Viasna, more than 200 people have been arrested and detained for participating in peaceful protests across the country. According to Belarusian Association of Journalists, 13 journalists were detained covering protests in Minsk, Mahiliou and Babruisk on June 19. All were released later the same day, except journalist Siarhei Latsinski, accused for participating in an unauthorised mass event.
These protests were in response to recent actions by Belarusian authorities to silence and intimidate the political opposition, including Viktar Babaryka, Sergei Tikhanovski, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Valentin Gomel, Vernonika Mishchenko, and Pavel Severinec, as well as journalists, bloggers, and other members of independent civil society. Since then, six independent United Nations experts have joined calls to urge the authorities to end crackdown on the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights.
In Belarus, these actions come after months of increasingly violent and repressive crackdowns on independent civil society, including journalists. In the first half of May alone, Viasna reported 120 arrests of peaceful protestors, human rights defenders and journalists. On May 29, police arrested and detained 15 people working to collect signatures in support of a presidential candidate. Of course, Belarusian authorities have a long history of periodic human rights violations generally tied to the political process. The violations, often centred around presidential election cycles, were referred to as “cyclical” by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus in 2017. Despite international recognition of these trends, very little preparation has been undertaken to mitigate risks associated with these types of crackdown by Belarus or the international community.
As Belarus approaches its 9 August presidential election, the authorities have a responsibility to ensure that all political voices are heard and everyone has the right to participate in peaceful assemblies. Journalists must be allowed to report on events in the country. Human rights defenders must be allowed to continue their work, which is critical to protecting fundamental human rights.
HRHF calls on the Belarusian authorities to:
- Release all people detained for civil and political activities and end further reprisals against them, including human rights defenders and journalists;
- Cancel all fines that have been levied on those participating in peaceful assemblies;
- Provide all presidential candidates with the opportunity to participate freely in a free and fair democratic election;
- Invite independent election monitoring mission from OSCE/ODIHR to monitor the presidential election;
- Take remedial action in relation to the raft of human rights violations that have occurred over recent months; and,
- Ensure the fulfilment of Belarus’ legal obligations both domestically and under international human rights law.
We acknowledge the statements and positions of the international community, including the European Union, and members of the European Parliament. However, independent civil society and human rights defenders need more support immediately. We call on the international community to:
- Advocate with Belarusian authorities to implement the aforementioned demands;
- Demonstrate solidarity with human rights defenders, including journalists, facing reprisals for peaceful protests and other peaceful civil and political activities;
- Monitor and publicly report on crackdowns prior to and following the Presidential election on August 9;
- Support independent election monitoring of the August 9 Presidential election and support the timely release of reporting from that monitoring;
- Maintain direct communication with independent civil society and human rights defenders throughout the coming months; and,
- Support the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council.