Scheduled presidential election in the Republic of Belarus on 9 August 2020 resulted in a wave of civil protests. The main slogans of protesters are to hold repeat, fair elections of the country’s president. Authorities launched a crackdown on peaceful protests, using rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons; clashes with security officers started in response. For a few days, the Internet was almost completely shut down in the country. Several thousand people were detained. However, protests continue up to this day with varying intensity.
According to available data, about 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began, and more than 2,000 detained Belarusians have been tortured and ill-treated by security forces. At the same time, more than 1,000 politically motivated criminal cases have been fabricated.
The United States, the European Union member states, and the United Kingdom stated that they did not recognise Belarus election results. The international community largely condemned the actions of the Belarusian authorities. Such statements were made by the European Union, the UN Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the PACE. In addition, individual countries (the USA, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Canada) and intergovernmental organizations (EU) imposed sanctions against the Belarusian authorities.
Pressure on journalists has increased: they are detained, allegedly for participating in rallies, beaten, deprived of accreditation and even prosecuted, their equipment is destroyed. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, about 400 journalists were sentenced to administrative detention from August 2020 to March 2021. From December to March, at least 100 journalists were sentenced to administrative detention and others were fined.
From late September to March, at least 18 criminal cases were initiated against journalists. The authorities forced lawyers of many of those journalists to sign a pledge of secrecy. Several lawyers refused to do so in similar cases and were deprived of their lawyer ID cards. The Ministry of Justice of Belarus revokes ID cards of lawyers, many of whom represent arrested politicians and journalists on various pretexts. In total, 15 such incidents have been known since October 2020.
Reprisals against human rights defenders continue in Belarus as well. Searches were conducted in the offices of organisations and at home of individual activists of the Human Rights Educational Institution “Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, NGO “Belarusian Association of Journalists”, Human Rights Center “Viasna”, association “Zvyano”, and other organisations. Well-known human rights activists Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Aleh Hrableuski, Andrei Aleksandrov, Leanid Sudalenka, and Siarhei Drazdouski (stays under house arrest, which can be equated with restriction of liberty due to its conditions) were arbitrarily detained and taken into custody over the past few months. Criminal proceedings on trumped-up charges were instituted against all of them, while the real reason is their human rights activities.
On 5 April 2021, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, the Zvyano association head, and four Zvyano activists were detained in Minsk. They organised a photo exhibition “Machine is Breathing and I Am Not”, dedicated to Belarusian doctors fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and participated in the creation of the WatchDocs Belarus human rights film festival and the centre for assistance and rehabilitation of prisoners. It later became known that all five detainees had been tried in an administrative case and found guilty of disobeying an order or request of law enforcement officers. Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya was also fined. However, she was not released from the Okrestina Detention Centre but was transferred to the pre-trial detention centre in Valadarski Street as part of a criminal case. As for others, their status in the criminal case remains unclear.
On 6 April 2021, Belarusian security forces raided the apartment of parents of Enira Bronitskaya, a human rights activist, member of the team “Human Constanta”.
In March, Belarusian security forces detained 1,139 people for political reasons. Thousands of Belarusians were issued fines and sentenced to administrative detention for participating in rallies. As of 13 April 2021, according to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, 354 people were recognised as political prisoners in Belarus.
Ukrainian human rights organisations are deeply concerned over ongoing crackdown on human rights in Belarus, persecution of opposition and civil society activists, and illegal detentions of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. We express our sincere support to the people of Belarus and call on the international human rights community, international organisations, governments of democratic countries to condemn the new wave of persecution in Belarus, express support for the detainees, and urge the Belarusian authorities to release them immediately! Help stop political persecution in a European country!
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Center for Civil Liberties
ZMINA Human Rights Centre
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Human Rights Platform
Social Action Centre
Luhansk Regional Human Rights Centre “Alternative”
NGO “Expert Group OWL” (Kyiv)
Open Dialogue Foundation
Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative”
Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv
Human Rights Center “Postup”
Ukrainian Center for the Prevention of Torture
Project “Without Borders”
NGO “Blue Bird”
Charitable Foundation “Person and Law”
Politzek.me, Politzek.me, 4 May 2021, 14:44