According to available information, on March 18, Volha Zalatar, a resident of Ždanovičy near Minsk, was detained by GUBAZIK police officers on her way home. The woman’s house was searched, after which she was detained and sent to a detention center.
Later the same evening, at about 11 pm, her husband Siarhei Hankevich was summoned for questioning, but as it turned out, it was only a formal reason to detain him. The following day, Volha was placed in pre-trial detention center No. 1, and her husband was imprisoned for 10 days for allegedly displaying a white-red-white flag in the window of his house, which was classified as an illegal picket. Their five children remained under the care of their grandmother.
The press service of the Minsk regional police reported that the woman was detained for her “active protest activities”. She was the administrator of a local chat and organized unsanctioned mass events: joint tea parties, walks, and concerts.
On March 22, it was reported that Volha Zalatar was facing criminal charges under Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus). However, on March 29, the woman was formally charged under Part 1 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation) and placed under pre-trial detention. Volha faces up to seven years in prison.
In this regard, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, note the following:
Volha Zalatar’s persecution comes amid massive post-election repression and a profound human rights crisis in the country. Recently, in order to combat dissent and protest activity of citizens, the authorities are increasingly resorting to the application of so-called anti-extremist legislation. The Belarusian human rights community has previously drawn attention to its flaws and incompatibility with international human rights standards. Now, after the Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus submitted amendments to the law, we note that the real purpose of these amendments is to combat dissent in the country in the worst traditions of the Soviet era.
Viewing local social chats as extremist, and their creators and moderators as creators of extremist organizations, the purpose of which is to “hold unauthorized gatherings in the form of tea parties, walks and concerts”, is an extremely dangerous trend and grossly encroaches on fundamental freedoms – freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and freedom of association.
Volha Zalatar exercised these freedoms in an exclusively peaceful manner. Her activities in no way posed a threat to national or public security, public order, the health and morals of the population, the rights and freedoms of others. Accordingly, such activities have legitimate purposes and cannot be subject to the permissible restrictions set out in Art. 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Peaceful protests, disagreements and criticism of the policies of the current government are an inalienable right of Belarusian citizens, and persecution and imprisonment for this is nothing but a violation of human rights. Dissent is not a crime!
We also note that the pre-trial detention chosen by the investigation against Volha is excessively harsh, as it was chosen without taking into account her personal characteristics, solely for repressive purposes.
Pursuant to para. 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, note the exclusively political nature of the persecution of Volha Zalatar by the authorities and will consider her as a political prisoner.
In this regard, we call to:
- immediately release Volha Zalatar from custody and drop the criminal charges she is facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners in Belarus and end political repression against the country's citizens.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Association of Journalists