Back Reprisals against Belarusian civil society must stop

Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa

Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa

Today’s verdict against two members of the Belarusian human rights centre Vyasna - Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa – sentenced respectively to three and to two and a half years of imprisonment in a colony, is another illustration of the reprisals against human rights defenders taking place in Belarus since the presidential elections of August 2020, said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.

“The verdicts further aggravate a situation that had already reached alarming levels, with the recent liquidation of the remaining registered human rights NGOs, including the oldest and most prominent ones, such as the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Legal Initiative, the Belarusian PEN Center and the Belarusian Association of Journalists - BAJ, indicating that the authorities are deliberately and systematically dismantling civil society in the country.

According to various independent sources, more than 270 NGOs have been dissolved or are in the process of liquidation by the Belarusian authorities - dozens of which by virtue of administrative decisions. Hundreds of human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, bloggers and journalists continue to face increased harassment in various forms, including smear campaigns, interrogations, restriction of movement, searches, administrative fines, arrests and detention, sometimes in inhuman conditions. Several dozens of media actors and human rights defenders, including long-standing partners of the Council of Europe, my office, and other international organisations, such as Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Marfa Rabkova, and many others have been arrested and detained under charges that defy credibility, for exercising their professional duties.

Even though Belarus is not a Council of Europe member state, it has international obligations to uphold human rights and the rule of law. It has also co-operated with various Council of Europe institutions in many fields, including those concerning an enabling environment for civil society organisations and human rights defenders.

The reprisals against civil society must stop immediately. All people deprived of liberty for exercising their legitimate civil society work should be unconditionally released. Belarusian civil society, independent media actors and human rights defenders should be able to work in a safe and enabling environment as required by international human rights law by which Belarus is bound like any other state.

As I stated previously, the Belarusian authorities bear full responsibility for human rights violations, especially when committed systematically and on a large scale. Regrettably, impunity for human rights violations, including serious ones, has remained unaddressed to date, and the needs of thousands of victims have not been adequately addressed. Furthermore, the state’s hostile policy and actions against civil society further contribute to the climate of impunity in Belarus.

I reiterate my sympathy and support to all of the courageous Belarusian human rights defenders, journalists and activists and stand ready to engage to better protect our shared human rights values.

Strasbourg 03/11/2021
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