The beginning of April was marked by a new wave of persecution of Belarusian human rights activists.
On April 5, law enforcement officers searched the office of the civil society organization Zviano, as well as at the homes of human rights activist Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya and activists Natallia Trenina and Yuliya Siamenchanka. The raids were related to an exhibition called “Machine is Breathing and I Am Not”. The exhibition was dedicated to Belarusian doctors and the challenges they have faced recently, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the politicization of the health care system. The exhibition opened on March 30, but on April 1 the venue was closed after an inspection by the Ministry of Emergencies and the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service. The exhibition was moved online.
It is currently known that Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, a human rights activist and the head of the Zviano NGO, is in the detention center in Akrestsin Street, and a criminal case has been launched against her.
On April 6, security forces searched the apartment of the parents of Enira Branitskaya, a human rights activist, member of the Human Constanta team, and a member of the supervisory board of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Branitskaya has been working on the topics of torture, the rights of persons with disabilities, the rights of foreigners and stateless persons in Belarus, and participated in international electoral observation missions organized by the OSCE/ODIHR.
Later, the activist’s own apartment was searched, where she was living together with the children. The official grounds for the search were a “rioting” criminal case and the activities of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus. During the search, electrical power supply of the activist’s home was turned off and Branitskaya was held incommunicado until the end of the raid. Now she is free, but her equipment has been confiscated and she has been restricted from leaving the country. She was also summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee on April 7.
Earlier, security forces searched the homes of representatives of other human rights organizations: the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, among others. Human rights activists Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, and Aleh Hrableuski were arrested, while Siarhei Drazdouski was placed under house arrest.
Legitimate human rights activities are increasingly being targeted by acts of pressure and harassment, while more activists engaged in protecting human rights are facing criminal charges.
Reaffirming the position set out in the statement of the Belarusian civil society organizations of January 27, the joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations of February 5, and the statement on the unprecedented attack on Belarusian human rights defenders of February 17, we deplore the widespread persecution for professional human rights work.
These actions grossly violate international standards concerning the protection of human rights defenders, in particular the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), OSCE Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and Guidelines on Freedom of Association.
In particular, according to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 1), “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”
At the same time, the state must take all necessary measures to ensure the protection, through the competent authorities, of any person acting individually and jointly with others, from any violence, threats, revenge, negative de facto or de jure discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary act in connection with the lawful exercise of his or her rights mentioned in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Thus, harassment and pressure for legitimate human rights activities, organization of educational activities or provision of free legal aid to citizens is absolutely unacceptable.
In this regard, we, representatives of the civil society organizations of Belarus, call on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Natallia Trenina and Yuliya Siamenchanka;
- immediately stop harassment and pressure, including through criminal cases, against human rights defenders and civil society activists in connection with their lawful activities, including awareness-raising, legal, charitable and other assistance to victims of human rights violations;
- immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression.
- ensure guarantees of non-interference in legal human rights activities and end the smear campaign targeting human rights defenders and civil society activists.
As before, we call on international organizations to express their public position and reactions on the persecution of Belarusian human rights defenders and human rights organizations.
We also call on the international community to use all available international mechanisms to end repression in Belarus.
We call on international human rights organizations and the Belarusian civil society to apply pro-active solidarity in defense of the persecuted Belarusian human rights defenders.
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists