Posts Tagged ‘Belarus’

Polish Border NGO Granica receives 2022 Zabel award

May 20, 2022

Human Rights First announced that it will present Grupa Granica with the William D. Zabel Human Rights Award 2022 in recognition of its commitment to human rights at the Poland-Belarus border.

For more about this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/984CA015-FE02-4992-8AED-4EB1AEC7D0EE

Grupa Granica are front-line human rights defenders working at a flashpoint for human rights and freedom of migration,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “We hope that Human Rights First’s presentation of the William D. Zabel Award provides additional recognition to the importance of their work and helps to stem this humanitarian and geopolitical crisis.

Formed in 2021 in response to the humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border, Grupa Granica is an informal network of Polish NGOs, activists, and inhabitants of the border region that provides humanitarian, medical, and legal aid to migrants stranded in the forests there.  They monitor the situation on the ground, provide assistance to people searching for missing family members, document human rights violations and educate Polish society on the situation at the border.

Our network was formed in August last year in response to the humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. It consists of local inhabitants, activists, NGO staff, doctors, lawyers, interpreters, psychologists, public figures and many others working hand in hand to save the lives of migrants stranded at the border,” says Marta Górczyńska of Grupa Granica.  “This prestigious award sends a clear message to the public that despite the recent attempts by the Polish authorities, providing humanitarian aid and defending human rights must never be criminalized. We hope it will also make it more difficult for the international community to turn a blind eye to the violations at the border.”

The 2022 award will be officially presented to Grupa Granica on June 8. 

For last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/27/william-zabel-human-rights-award-2021-to-philippines-ngo-karapatan/

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-present-poland-s-grupa-granica-2022-william-d-zabel-human-rights

Human Rights Defenders at Polish-Belarus border under pressure

February 18, 2022

Poland must probe into harassment of human rights defenders at Belarus border

Poland must investigate all allegations of harassment of human rights defenders, including media workers and interpreters, at the border with Belarus, and grant access to journalists and humanitarian workers to the border area ensuring that they can work freely and safely, UN human rights experts* said on 16 February 2022.

I am receiving several reports of harassments from human rights defenders who assist migrants and document human rights violations against them at the Polish-Belarusian border, and I am deeply concerned at this practice,” said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Jakub Sypiański, a volunteer interpreter assisting migrants and asylum-seekers, was reportedly stopped by armed soldiers when driving home in November 2021. The soldiers, who were in an unmarked vehicle, did not identify themselves nor explain their actions. They forced open the car door, took the keys out of the ignition and tried pulling him out by his legs.

“Most of the migrants at the border do not speak Polish,” said Mary Lawlor. “Interpreters play a vital role in ensuring their human rights are protected both at the border and in immigration detention centres.”

At around the same time, armed soldiers reportedly harassed journalists covering the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers. Soldiers who did not identify themselves stopped, searched and handcuffed photojournalists Maciej Moskwa and Maciej Nabrdalik outside a military camp. The soldiers searched their equipment, scrutinising their photos, and documented their phone messages and incoming calls.

Journalists Olivia Kortas and Christoph Kürbel, along with two local Polish residents, were allegedly harassed by soldiers while filming a documentary about the human rights situation of migrants at the border.

Reports that these journalists are being persecuted for documenting such human rights violations are appalling,” said Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “Their work is crucial for everyone’s access to information about the situation unfolding at the border. If they are not allowed to do their job, there are very serious consequences for the human rights of migrants”.

“Interpreters and journalists, along with medics, lawyers and others who peacefully work for the protection of human rights or who provide humanitarian aid, are human rights defenders, according to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Poland should bear this in mind and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment and with full access to the border area,” said Lawlor.

The experts are in contact with the Polish authorities on the matter.

The experts’ call was endorsed by: Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, and Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention.

https://www.devdiscourse.com/article/law-order/1924185-poland-must-probe-into-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders-at-belarus-border

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1112032

Film “Don’t be afraid” about Belarus wins documentary competition

February 17, 2022

The “Don’t be afraid” film directed by Mikhail Arshynski has won the “Best Documentary on Human Rights” nomination at the Best Film Awards in London.

The film shows the struggle of the Belarusian people for fair elections the fate of people who responded to the call of blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski and took part in the 2020 presidential campaign. Events are shown through the lenses of Arshynski, who witnessed an unthinkable political confrontation. With a camera in hand, he followed each stage of the campaign. He filmed how the authorities prevented the collection of signatures and their transfer to the election commissions how the headquarters of alternative candidates united. Mikhail traveled with them to the regions of Belarus.

The film won also the top prize at the South Korean “Hinzpeter Awards” film festival.

That things are getting worse is also shown by the report that on 25 January, officers of the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus searched the apartment of the director of Mahiliou Human Rights Center, Valery Krauchanka. After the search, the law enforcers took his son’s toy gun and 10-year-old leaflets of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. On January 26, another search was conducted in Krauchanka’s home, as a result of which a laptop was seized.

The Mahiliou Human Rights Center has been actively engaged in human rights activities in the Mahiliou region for more than 20 years. For this, they had repeatedly come under the scrutiny of local authorities, who are dissatisfied with the criticism coming from human rights defenders.

The hearing about the “Mahiliou Human Rights Center” liquidation will be held on February 17 at 14.30, reports the Human Rights Center “Viasna.”

See more on Belarus: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/belarus/

belsat.eu

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya wins the Four Freedoms Award

January 8, 2022

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will receive the Four Freedoms Award this year. The intention is that Tikhanovskaya will receive the prize on April 21 in Middelburg. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/CC8B97CB-FAE1-5A1F-68DB-0CE63E3306D0

Tikhanovskaya was the main rival to current President Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Her husband, Sergei Tikhanovski, had originally wanted to run for president, but was arrested before he could run for office. Tikhanovskaya then took over his role.

After Belarusian state television released an exit poll showed Lukashenko winning by an overwhelming margin, Tsikhanouskaya said that she didn’t trust that poll, saying, “I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us. She filed a formal complaint with the Central Election Commission on election night, but was detained for seven hours in retaliation. After her release from detention, Tsikhanouskaya chose to flee to Lithuania in fear of repercussions, which could have possibly affected her children.

Tsikhanouskaya and other Belarus leaders of the country’s democratic opposition were awarded the European Parliament’s 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/22/belarus-opposition-movement-wins-eus-sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sviatlana_Tsikhanouskaya

https://www.pzc.nl/home/four-freedoms-award-voor-svetlana-tichanovskaja-situatie-in-belarus-wordt-met-de-dag-erger~aff02eaa/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders 2021

December 14, 2021

With some delay (apologies), here are the winners of the 2021 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. For more on this award and all its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/2E90A0F4-6DFE-497B-8C08-56F4E831B47D

The short videos above provide more information on the laureates:

2021 – Africa: Aminata Fabba, Sierra Leone
          – Americas: Camila Moradia, Brazil
          – Asia: Mother Nature Cambodia, Cambodia [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/continued-harassment-of-mother-nature-defenders-in-cambodia/]
          – Europe & Central Asia 1: Siarhei Drazdouski & Alah Hrableuski, Belarus
          – Europe & Central Asia 2: Mamadou Ba, Portugal
          – Middle East & North Africa: Sami & Sameeha Huraini, Palestine.

To watch the on-line ceremony:

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/front-line-defenders-award

Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Two Members of Human Rights Group Viasna in Belarus

November 5, 2021
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa.
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa. © 2021 Human Rights Centre Viasna

On Wednesday, November 3, the Centraĺny District Court in Homieĺ delivered the verdict in the politically motivated criminal case against two human rights defenders with the Homieĺ branch of Viasna, a leading Belarusian human rights group. The court sentenced the head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa to three and two and a half years in prison, respectively.

18 international and Belarusian organizations call on Belarusian authorities to immediately annul the outrageous verdict and drop all charges against Sudalenka and Lasitsa, as well as five other members of Viasna who are currently in jail on politically motivated charges.

“Politically motivated prosecutions of Viasna members and volunteers are part of the ‘purge’ of Belarusian civil society declared by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his government. Belarusian authorities’ targeting of Viasna in particular is no doubt designed to punish the organization for its outstanding and courageous human rights work over the course of 25 years.”

On October 14, the prosecutor’s office requested three years’ imprisonment for Sudalenka and Lasitsa on charges of “organizing, financing, training, and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities.” The charges were backed by absurd “evidence,” such as Sudalenka’s Facebook post offering to buy firewood for the family of someone accused of “mass rioting” in connection with the peaceful protests of 2020.

Sudalenka and Lasitsa have been in pretrial detention for over nine months, having been arrested on January 18 and 21, respectively. Their trial began in early September and was held behind closed doors.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/27/crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-in-belarus-continues/

On January 18, authorities also detained Viasna’s volunteer Maryia Tarasenka in connection to Sudalenka and Lasitsa’s case. She was released under her own recognizance three days after the arrest. Tarasenka left Belarus after prosecutor’s office requested two and a half years imprisonment for her in October.

The other five Viasna members currently behind bars on politically motivated criminal charges are Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna deputy chairman, Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and coordinator of the group’s campaign “Human rights defenders for free elections,” Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers, and Andrei Chapyuk, a volunteer for Viasna in Minsk.

The human rights defenders’ conditions of detention raise serious concerns: reports indicate they have been subjected to degrading and cruel treatment and their correspondence is often blocked. On October 13, Marfa Rabkova’s husband was allowed to see her for the first time in 13 months and reported she had been asking for but was denied medical care.

Around 100 Viasna human rights defenders and volunteers, as well as their family members, have also been interrogated and designated witnesses in criminal cases against their colleagues. At least seven have been designated suspects.

Belarusian law enforcement continues regular interrogations in connection with the criminal cases against Viasna employees, including activists of other civil groups and initiatives.

On September 17, 23 international and Belarusian human rights groups launched a campaign #FreeViasna, demanding the immediate release of the jailed Viasna human rights defenders. We continue calling on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Fully abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • Fully respect the work of human rights defenders and lawyers and ensure that everyone can complain without fear of retaliation about actions and policies of individual officials and governmental agencies.
  • In line with these obligations, release Tatsiana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Ales Bialatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapyuk immediately, drop all charges against Viasna staff and volunteers, including Maryia Tarasenka, and other human rights defenders, and ensure their right to a remedy for arbitrary detention and malicious prosecution.

Also woth mentioning is that on 4 November 2021 in response to the Belarusian authorities’ failure to respond satisfactorily to the 5 November 2020 Moscow Mechanism report, 35 OSCE states invoked the Vienna (Human Dimension) Mechanism and Belarus’ commitments under that Mechanism.

Signed:

Amnesty International

Article 19

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Center for Civil Liberties

Civil Rights Defenders

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights Center Viasna

Human Rights House Foundation       

Human Rights Watch

International Partnership for Human Rights                    

Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights                

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Östgruppen – Swedish Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights               

Right Livelihood                         

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/03/joint-statement-sentencing-two-members-human-rights-group-viasna-belarus#

https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-lawyer-sudalenka-jailed/31544089.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/human-rights-in-belarus-35-osce-states-invoke-vienna-mechanism

Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers in Belarus continues

October 27, 2021
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus.
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus. © Human Rights Center Viasna 2018

Anastasiia Zlobina, Assistant Researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch reports that on 25 October 2021, the Minsk Bar Association disbarred prominent Belarusian defense lawyer Natalia Matskevich, the latest in a wide-raging and politically motivated crackdown on lawyers.

Matskevich is one of four lawyers who represented Viktar Babaryka, former presidential contender arrested on politically motivated charges in June 2020 in the run-up to the August 9 election. In July 2021, Supreme Court sentenced Babaryka to 14 years in prison for “grand bribery” and “laundering of illicit funds.”

On October 20, the Justice Ministry suspended the license of Evgeni Pylchenka, a lawyer who also represented Babaryka, pending the outcome of a disciplinary case against him. Matskevich’s disbarment and Pylchenka’s suspension came soon after they had filed an appeal in Babaryka’s case. Their colleagues said these sanctions were “absurd” and based on “ridiculous” allegations, including “some [supposedly] incorrectly worded questions to witnesses during trial.” 

In July, days after Babaryka’s verdict, authorities stripped his then-lawyer Dmitry Layevsky of his attorney’s license, citing “inappropriate comments about the work of his colleagues.” Prior to his disbarment, Layevsky had faced pressure from the authorities and the Minsk Bar Association.

In October 2020, the Justice Ministry terminated the license of Aliaksandr Pylchenka, another prominent member of Babaryka’s defense team, over supposed “incompetent comments to mass media”

According to Layevsky, Matskevich and Evgeny Pylchenka became “irreplaceable” in Babaryka’s case due to their detailed knowledge of the voluminous case as well as Babaryka’s trust in them.

Since August 2020, Belarusian authorities have been turning up the pressure on lawyers for publicly speaking out about human rights violations and in defense of clients in politically motivated cases. In addition to the obstruction of their work, lawyers have faced personal harassment such as threats, arbitrary detention, raids, revoked licenses, and administrative and criminal charges.

The Belarusian National Bar Association and its regional bars have continuously failed to protect their members.

At least 27 lawyers have already been banned or suspended in reprisal for speaking out against the recent wave of repressions in Belarus. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/10/two-lawyers-from-belarus-share-lawyers-for-lawyers-award-2021/

In November, new restrictive amendments will enter into force, further increasing the Ministry of Justice’s authority over, and eviscerating the independence of, Belarusian lawyers. The arbitrary suspension and disbarment of Belarusian lawyers doesn’t just rob them of their ability to practice their profession, but undermines their clients’ right to legal counsel, and sends a chilling message of intimidation to their colleagues.

On October 26, the Belarusian human rights community issued a joint statement on their recognising another 12 persons as political prisoners, HRC Viasna reported. As of October 26, there are 833 political prisoners in Belarus on this list.

The updated list includes:

  • Syarhei Prus and Dzmitry Bondarau, who were sentenced under Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code to 5 years in a penal colony for creating and posting online a video calling for illegal actions against riot police officers of the Mahilioŭ regional department of internal affairs;
  • Dzmitry Sonchyk, who was sentenced under Art. 364 and Art. 369 of the Criminal Code to 5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony for insults and threats to police officers in comments in a Telegram channel in 2020 and 2021;
  • Andrey Razuvayeu , who was sentenced under Article 369 and 295 of the Criminal Code to 4 years in a penal colony for insulting a government official and keeping a small amount of hunting gunpowder;
  • Iryna Melkher, Anton Melkher, Halina Dzerbysh, Syarhei Razanovich, Lyubou Razanovich, Pavel Razanovich, who have been in custody on terrorism charges since early December 2020. According to the human rights defenders, they have not participated in any investigative actions, while the investigation is not formally completed, and the state propaganda resources back in 2020 claimed that the guilt and role of all those involved in the case was ‘established and proven’;
  • former investigator Yauhen Yushkevich. The circumstances of the new accusation of terrorism give grounds to believe that his detention may be arbitrary and related to his public activities, human rights activists stress;
  • Yauhen Buynitski, who was detained on charges under Part 3 of Art. 371 of the Criminal Code for organizing illegal border crossing by citizens fleeing arbitrary politically motivated persecution by the Belarusian authorities, which could have serious consequences for them – torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and illegal imprisonment.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/26/belarusian-authorities-retaliate-against-lawyers-defending-human-rights

Internet Censorship 2021: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions

October 19, 2021

On October 12 I referred the report Freedom on the Net [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/12/report-freedom-on-the-net-2021/ and on 24 April to the latest RSF report [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/24/world-press-freedom-index-2021-is-out/]. Now my attention was drawn to another tool to measure internet censorship:

Nearly 60 percent of the world’s population (4.66 billion people) uses the internet. It’s our source of instant information, entertainment, news, and social interactions.

But where in the world can citizens enjoy equal and open internet access – if anywhere?

In this exploratory study, our researchers have conducted a country-by-country comparison to see which countries impose the harshest internet restrictions and where citizens can enjoy the most online freedom. This includes restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media. This year, we have also added the restriction of messaging/VoIP apps.

Although the usual culprits take the top spots, a few seemingly free countries rank surprisingly high. With ongoing restrictions and pending laws, our online freedom is at more risk than ever.

We scored each country on six criteria. Each of these is worth two points aside from messaging/VoIP apps which is worth one (this is due to many countries banning or restricting certain apps but allowing ones run by the government/telecoms providers within the country). The country receives one point if the content—torrents, pornography, news media, social media, VPNs, messaging/VoIP apps—is restricted but accessible, and two points if it is banned entirely. The higher the score, the more censorship. https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IBnNS/3/

The worst countries for internet censorship

  1. North Korea and China (11/11) – No map of online censorship would be complete without these two at the top of the list. There isn’t anything either of them doesn’t heavily censor thanks to their iron grip over the entire internet. Users are unable to use western social media, watch porn, or use torrents or VPNs*. And all of the political media published in the country is heavily censored and influenced by the government. Both also shut down messaging apps from abroad, forcing residents to use ones that have been made (and are likely controlled) within the country, e.g. WeChat in China. Not only does WeChat have no form of end-to-end encryption, the app also has backdoors that enable third parties to access messages.
  2. Iran (10/11): Iran blocks VPNs (only government-approved ones are permitted, which renders them almost useless) but doesn’t completely ban torrenting. Pornography is also banned and social media is under increasing restrictions. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked with increasing pressures to block other popular social media sites. Many messaging apps are also banned with authorities pushing domestic apps and services as an alternative. Political media is heavily censored.
  3. Belarus, Qatar, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the UAE (8/11): Turkmenistan, Belarus, and the UAE all featured in our “worst countries” breakdown in 2020.  But this year they are joined by Qatar, Syria, and Thailand. All of these countries ban pornography, have heavily censored political media, restrict social media (bans have also been seen in Turkmenistan), and restrict the use of VPNs. Thailand saw the biggest increase in censorship, including the introduction of an online porn ban which saw 190 adult websites being taken down. This included Pornhub (which featured as one of the top 20 most visited websites in the country in 2019).

https://comparite.ch/internetcensorshipmap

Belarus’s Kalesnikava Awarded Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

September 29, 2021

On 27 September 2021 RFE/RL’s Belarus Service reported that jailed Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava has won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor “outstanding” civil society action in the defense of human rights amid an ongoing crackdown in Belarus on pro-democracy activists and groups by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/beff3c8d-0e20-4e88-9efb-cdfcb4c26f40


Maryya Kalesnikava forms a heart shape to supporters from inside a defendants' cage at her trial in Minsk on September 6.
Maryya Kalesnikava forms a heart shape to supporters from inside a defendants’ cage at her trial in Minsk on September 6.

The prize was presented by PACE President Rik Daems to Maryya’s sister, Tatsyana Khomich, at a special ceremony on September 27, the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the PACE in Strasbourg. For more on this award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/7A8B4A4A-0521-AA58-2BF0-DD1B71A25C8D

“In standing up against a regime which has chosen force and brutality against peaceful and legitimate protest, Ms. Kalesnikava showed that she is ready to risk her own safety for a cause greater than herself — she has shown true courage,” Daems said.

Accepting the prize on her sister’s behalf, Khomich said: “This award is a sign of solidarity of the entire democratic world with the people of Belarus. It is also a sign to us, Belarusians, that the international community supports us, and that we are on the right track.”

Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years respectively on September 6, after being found guilty on charges with conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both pleaded not guilty, rejecting the charges.

Kalesnikava, 39, was a coordinator of the election campaign of an excluded presidential aspirant, former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka. After Babaryka was arrested weeks before the August 2020 presidential election, Kalesnikava joined forces with another presidential candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whom the majority of Belarusians have called the winner in the election.

After joining Tsikhanouskaya’s support group, Kalesnikava became a member of the opposition Coordination Council and turned into a prominent leader of protests demanding the resignation of Lukashenka, who was officially announced the winner of the election demonstrators say was rigged and which the West has refused to acknowledge.

Kalesnikava was snatched from the streets of Minsk in September 2020 by masked men along with two staffers. The three were driven early the next day to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine.

Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she ripped her passport into small pieces after they arrived in the no man’s land between Belarus and Ukraine. Her two associates entered Ukraine, but with no valid passport, Kalesnikava remained in the country and was subsequently detained.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/nominees-for-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-2021-announced/

In the meantime the Belarusian Justice Ministry has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, one of the country’s oldest independent human rights groups, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 30, 2021, the Belarus Supreme Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the lawsuit. The move is part of wider effort by Belarusian authorities to silence all independent or critical voices in the country.

In a September 22 letter, five international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, urged the Justice Ministry to withdraw its lawsuit, calling it “inappropriate [and] inconsistent with the Belarusian government’s obligations to respect and protect the legitimate work of human rights defenders.” They also said the lawsuit “violates a number of fundamental rights, including those of freedom of expression and association and due process.”

https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-kalesnikava-havel-prize/31480306.html

https://www.euronews.com/2021/09/28/us-europe-rights-belarus

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/belarus-authorities-target-top-human-rights-group

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Two lawyers from Belarus share Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

September 10, 2021

Belarusian lawyers Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak will receive the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021. The Award will be presented at a ceremony co-hosted by Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association in the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on 18 November 2021. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

By awarding Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak the Lawyers for Lawyers Award, the jury wants to highlight the important work of both lawyers who bravely represented Belarusian human rights defenders and opposition leaders and are paying a high price for their work. With this Award, the jury also wants to raise awareness of other Belarusian lawyers who have been subjected to pressure, harassment and intimidation in connection to their professional activities especially in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections”.

Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak laureates Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

Maksim Znak                                                                                     

Maksim Znak represented Viktor Babaryko, a potential candidate in the presidential elections who was not allowed to formally register. He also provided legal assistance to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former candidate for the presidency who is now in exile, and Maria Kolesnikova, Coordination Council co-leader. On 9 September 2020, Mr. Znak was arrested for allegedly having committed the offence of “calls to actions seeking to undermine national security” in violation of Article 361(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. In February 2021, additional charges were added, including “conspiracy to seize state power” and “organising extremism”. On 6 September 2021, Mr. Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison during a closed-door-trial. His sentencing is another indication of the challenging working environment in which Belarusian lawyers must operate.

Liudmila Kazak

Liudmila Kazak is a human rights lawyer who has defended political prisoners, human rights defenders, and journalists, including the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova. On 24 September 2020, she was detained. The next day, the court held Kazak administratively liable for disobeying police officers based on testimony given by anonymous masked witnesses who appeared via Skype and claimed to be the arresting officers. She was sentenced to a fine under article 23.4 of the Belarusian Administrative Code and released on 26 September 2020. On 11 February 2021, she was notified of a pending disciplinary proceeding against her before the Qualification Commission for legal practice in the Republic of Belarus. On 19 February 2021, the Qualification Commission disbarred Ms. Kazak. Ms. Kazak appealed the decision, but, on 15 April 2021, a district court upheld Ms. Kazak’s disbarment. On 17 June 2021, an appellate court upheld the district court decision.

For 2019 award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/lawyers-for-lawyers-award-to-turkish-human-rights-defender-selcuk-kozagacli-on-23-may/