Posts Tagged ‘Viasna Human Rights Centre’

Belarus: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders!

March 22, 2021

On 18 March, 2021 a Joint NGO Statement on Belarus was published: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders:

The Belarusian authorities are conducting a targeted campaign of intimidation against civil society in an effort to silence all critics of the government. Following the disputed presidential election on 9 August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest the announced result. Peaceful protests continue and reprisals against protesters continue too, with frightening regularity and increasing severity. Riot police have used unlawful force, detaining thousands of people. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread. Over 33,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or voicing their dissent and an increasing number are being prosecuted under trumped up criminal charges and handed prison sentences. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d]

Human rights defenders have played an invaluable role in documenting these violations, providing legal assistance, and advising people of their rights. The Belarusian authorities are now escalating pressure on human rights defenders by imposing unfounded criminal charges, opening bogus criminal investigations, and conducting raids and searches in retaliation for these defenders’ legitimate human rights work. Some are in pre-trial detention or under house arrest and there are allegations they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have compelled lawyers for most of these activists to sign non-disclosure agreements that bar them from sharing any information about the investigation.

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

In January 2021, authorities targeted the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, and its director, Syarhei Drazdouski, and lawyer, Aleh Hrableuski, are now under house arrest and in pretrial detention, respectively. The Office is a well-respected NGO that has been supporting people with disabilities by offering them legal advice and advocating for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus visited the office and the homes of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski simultaneously (allegedly to inspect the scene of the crime). They removed computers, phones, and some documents. They also took statements from both men.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department published a message on its official website launching a process of verification into the activities of the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a part of an investigation into “possible inappropriate acquisition of funds received in the form of charitable contributions and international support in the period from 2020 to the present for the purpose of providing assistance to Belarusian citizens with disabilities”.

Siarhei Drazdouski commented in a Facebook post on 3 February:

“Allegedly we were financially supporting people accused of taking part in protest actions. In fact, we advised several victims [of human rights violations] – both people with disabilities and without – to seek help from lawyers.”

Allegations of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

On 2 February 2021, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were questioned for seven hours at the Financial Investigations Department. Their lawyers were not allowed to accompany them, and they were subjected to ill-treatment.

According to Syarhei Drazdouski, the interrogators, who did not introduce themselves, openly called him a “criminal, a fraudster, a liar and an accomplice.” While the interrogation was mostly conducted politely, several times other staff members came in and insulted and aggressively swore at him.

Aleh Hrableuski reported that, when he continued to refuse to give them the information they demanded, he was restrained, forcibly stripped naked and made to sit naked on a chair and not raise his eyes. Investigators eventually released him.

On 3 February 2021, both men were taken for questioning again, but this time Hrableuski was remanded in custody and Drazdouski was put under house arrest. Their lawyers were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, as is increasingly the practice in Belarus, and very little information is available about the charges against them.

Viasna

On 16 February 2021, the Belarusian authorities carried out raids simultaneously throughout the country on the homes of staff and offices of Human Rights Centre Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent trade union REP. The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order), which the authorities have launched to target civil society activists, journalists, and human rights monitors. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities”. (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/24/fake-letter-tries-to-discredit-viasna-in-belarus/]

Dzmitry Salauyou, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was among those whose homes were searched on 16 February. Special forces and officers from the Department for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption, a police unit also involved in the harassment of protesters, broke down the door to his flat to enter and carry out the search. They confiscated computers and telephones and demanded that his wife tell them the password for her mobile phone. They threatened that if she did not comply, she would go to prison, and their 13-year-old child would be put in state custody. Dzmitry Salauyou was detained and alleges that he was beaten by special forces in the mini-bus on the way to the pretrial detention centre. Subsequent medical reports documented head trauma consistent with being hit on the head, increased intracranial pressure, and suspected damage to cervical vertebrae.

On 18 February, he was sentenced to 12 days’ detention on administrative charges for holding an “illegal picket.” The conviction was based solely on the fact that the building in which Dzmitry Salauyou lives has a concrete frieze depicting Belarus’ historical coat of arms, Pahonia, which has been adopted as one of the symbols of the protest movement. According to the judge, the Pahonia is considered a symbol of protest and could be considered evidence of “staging a one-person picket”. Dzmitry Salauyou told the court that the frieze had been installed when the house was built about eight years ago.

On 1 March, the day following his release, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained at Minsk airport as he was trying to leave the country with his family. The Investigative Committee interrogated him at their offices as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training or other preparation of individuals to take part in group actions that gravely violate public order’), which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. He was released but is under travel restrictions. Both Dzmitry Salauyou and his lawyer were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Other Members of Viasna Accused of Criminal Offences

Marfa Rabkova, the youth coordinator of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and has been in pretrial detention ever since. On 25 September, she was charged under Article 293(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training and other preparation of people for participation in mass riots’), which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. On 11 February 2021, she was also charged under Article 130(3) of the Criminal Code, (‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group’), and under Article 285 (2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’) which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.

Andrei Chepyuk, a volunteer for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, was detained on 2 October 2020 and on 9 October he was charged under Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (participation in mass disorder). On 28 January 2021, it became known that he is also charged under Article 285(2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’). He is being held in pretrial detention centre No.1 in Minsk.

Tatsyana Lasitsa, an activist who volunteers for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Homel, was detained on 21 January. She had assisted with the legal defense of people detained and fined for their participation in protests. She has been charged under Article 342 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘organization or participation in group actions that gravely violate public order’). She is being held in the pretrial detention centre in Homel.

Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was detained on his way to the office on 18 January 2021. He has been charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (‘organizing and preparing actions that gravely violate public order or active participation in such actions’). Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of Homel region residents who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election protests. He is being held in pretrial detention in Homel. In 2019 he was awarded two prizes for his human rights work over 20 years, the French prize Freedom Equality and Brotherhood, and a National Belarusian Prize as Human Rights Defender of the Year.

We call on the Belarusian authorities:

  • To 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.
  • To fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everybody has the right to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government bodies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • In line with these obligations, to release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Syarhei Drazdouski, and Aleh Hrableuski immediately and unconditionally as they have been detained for their legitimate human rights work, drop charges against them and ensure their right to a remedy for unfounded criminal prosecution.
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and carry out prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by Syarhei Drazdouski, Aleh Hrableuski, and Dzmitry Salauyou
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to reasonable accommodations and the right to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stage.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/joint-statement-belarus-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders

Good NEWS: Ales Bialiatski – Belarus’ best-known human rights defender – freed from prison

June 22, 2014

On 21 June 2014 it was reported by AP and others that prominent Belarusian human rights defender  Ales Bialiatski was finally released from prison that day. The 51-year-old leader of the NGO Vyasna, was released 20 months ahead of schedule. Supporters greeted Bialiatski at a train station in the capital, Minsk, after he traveled from prison.”The international support and the support back home, this is what brought about my release,” Bialiatski told reporters, “I will continue to do what Ive been doing.”   [6 people remain in prison for political activism, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich]

via Belarus human rights leader freed from prison after 3 years in possible gesture to West | Star Tribune.

for earlier posts on Ales Bialiatski: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ales-bialiatski/

Major conference on human rights in Belarus on 27 May in Geneva

May 22, 2014

On Tuesday 27 May 2014, will take place a Conference on the human rights situation in Belarus, from 14h00 –17h00 in the International Conference Centre in Geneva (room 3)

Speakers include:

  • Florian Irminger, Human Rights House Foundation
  • Tatsiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and Belarusian Human Rights House
  • Aleh Hulak, Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  • Anna Gerasimova, Belarusian Human Rights House
  • Volodymyr Yavorskyy, Working group on the development of the Guidelines on Definition of Political Prisoner
  • Andrzej  Poczobut, journalist
  • Nicolas Agostini, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Andrei Paluda, Human Rights Centre “Viasna”
  • Pavel Levinau, Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  • Natallia Pinchuk, wife of Belarus political prisoner Ales Bialaitski
  • Marina Adamovich, wife of Belarus political prisoner Mikola Statkevich

For more  information contact: anna.innocenti[at]humanrightshouse.org

The meeting is cosponsored by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Civicus, Belarusian Human Rights House and the Human Rights House Foundation.

Human rights defenders participate in MP4Freedom campaign

April 2, 2014

US-based NGO Freedom House, in cooperation with the Lithuanian Parliament and Belarusian human rights defenders, launched on 26 March 2014 the MP4Freedom initiative inviting Lithuanian MPs to become “godparents” of political prisoners in Belarus.As neighbors, Lithuanians should care about the future of the Belarusian nation,” said Petras Austrevicius, deputy speaker of the Seimas, who championed the initiative on behalf of the Lithuanian Parliament.  “The idea behind this initiative is to encourage Lithuanian MPs to engage on the issue personally by becoming ‘godparents’ of political prisoners in Belarus.”

To make this initiative effective, Lithuanian MPs should address the Belarusian authorities and demand the release of political prisoners,” said Marina Lobava, the mother of a political prisoner Eduard Lobau. “MPs can write to the heads of detention facilities requesting information about the health of a particular political prisoner. They can also help by contacting the International Red Cross and facilitating its visits to prisons. International advocacy in the EU to keep the political prisoners issue on the foreign policy agenda towards Belarus is also necessary.”

Under this campaign, the participating Lithuanian parliamentarians, who represent the governing and opposition political parties alike, take the responsibility to follow the cases of particular political prisoners in Belarus, meet with their relatives, and speak publicly both at Lithuanian and international venues on human rights violations in Belarus. There are currently 10 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the Human Rights Center Viasna.

Freedom House, the Lithuanian Parliament and human rights defenders launch initiative to support Belarusian political prisoners | Belarus: civil society under attack | Freeales.fidh.net.

Belarus Ales Byalyatski wins Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize of Council of Europe

September 30, 2013

 

Ales Byalyatski wins Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

Imprisoned Belarus human rights defender Ales Byalyatski has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize of the  Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.  Read the rest of this entry »

Vasil Parfiankou sent for forced treatment in Belarus

September 24, 2013

Vasil Parfiankou sent for forced treatment

Former political prisoner Vasil Parfiankou has been placed in medical and labor dispensary No. 1 in the town of Svetlahorsk, after serving five days of arrest in Minsk. The Human Rights Center “Viasna” Read the rest of this entry »

Detention after solidarity action in Mahiliou, Belarus

August 8, 2013

Social activist Dyiana Yakauleva was detained by the riot police at the police station in Krylenka Street. Human rights defenders Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn are trying to clear up the circumstances of the detention. From 11.30 -12.30  a.m. a solidarity action, timed to coincide with the International Day of Solidarity with the Civil Society of Belarus, was held in the city of Mahiliou, Belarus. During the action, social activists handed out postcards with a portrait of the imprisoned head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski. The protest went peacefully but after it ended Dyiana Yakauleva was detained anyway.

via Detentions after solidarity action in Mahiliou – Charter97 :: News from Belarus – Belarusian News – Republic of Belarus – Minsk.

 

“Free Bialatski!”, “Free Nabil” shouted by FIDH in the streets of Istanbul

May 27, 2013

Freedom to Bialatski! in streets of Istanbul

The participants of the 38th Congress of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH), which has started on 23 May in Istanbul, organized a procession with the demand to release their colleagues political prisoners Read the rest of this entry »

General Prosecutor’s Office in Belarus refuses dialogue with NGOs

August 10, 2012

On 10 August, Human Rights Center “Viasna” reported that it received an answer from the General Prosecutor’s Office about a request it and others NGOs (Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Committee for Protection of the Repressed “Solidarity”, the Centre for Legal Transformation, and the Center for Human Rights) had made to discuss illegal preventive detention.

The Head of the Department for Supervision over the observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens, M.V.Papova, simply made a bureaucratic response stating that “given that you are not a person to whom, in prescribed order, is delegated the right to represent the interests of these citizens, there are no sufficient grounds to consider your appeal”. But human rights activists in their address didn’t ask to represent the interests of citizens in administrative processes, but only meet with the Attorney General of the Republic of Belarus, the Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus to discuss the situation, prevent illegal practices, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Basically, they didn’t hear an answer from the Prosecutor General’s Office. The Deputy of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich said “representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations expressed their concern that illegal and politically motivated detentions and arrests of political and civil activists have actually become a norm in the country. It is very unfortunate that not only representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but also judges are involved in these processes. This problem we planned to discuss with senior officials, whose responsibility is to protect legitimate rights of citizens of the country. We did not complain to the sentences of the courts, did not intend to represent these citizens in these public bodies and institutions. It is a pity that the General Prosecutor’s Office declined in an ostrich style the offer of the human rights defenders“.

from: General Prosecutor’s Office covers preventive arrests of oppositionists – Charter97 :: News from Belarus – Belarusian News – Republic of Belarus – Minsk.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Füle: solidarity with the activists of Viasna in Belarus

January 26, 2012

It is good to see that not only human rights functionaries in the EU express themselves when confronted with human rights issues:  Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, met the Vice-President of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, Valiantin Stefanovic, to discuss the situation of human rights activists in Belarus. In this context, the Commissioner expressed his concerns about the ongoing politically motivated targeting of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”.


Their meeting took place after the Minsk City Court rejected the cassation appeal of renowned human rights defender and President of “Viasna” and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights Ales Bialiatski, who was sentenced on 24 November 2011 on politically motivated grounds as a consequence of his work to the benefit of victims of repression.

Commissioner Füle expressed his deep concern over this decision and reiterated the EU’s call on Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Bialiatski and to drop the charges against him and against his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovic.

Belarus: Commissioner Füle with the activists of Viasna and FIDH.