Escalating crackdown on human rights defenders

  • by EECA
  • 16 February 2021

Paris-Geneva, February 16, 2021 – Starting early this morning, the Belarusian police, State Security Committee (KGB) officers and members of the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption have been carrying coordinated searches and arrests of human rights defenders and journalists. While the information remains scarce, this is another escalation in the 191 days of violent crackdown on civil society.

Since the early morning of February 16, 2021, at least 25 human rights defenders and journalists across Belarus have seen their houses and offices searched. Many among them have been detained. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” are amongst the main targets.

Police officers have conducted searches at the apartments of Pavel Sapelko, Viasna lawyer and Andrei Poluda, Viasna’s coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus”, at the offices of members of the Mahiliou branch of Viasna Aliaksei Kolchyn and Barys Bukhel, at the house of the head of Mazyr branch of Viasna Uladzimir Tselepun and at the house of the head of Svietlahorsk branch of Viasna Alena Masliukova. Another search was initiated at the house of Natalya Satsunkevich, member of the Minsk branch of Viasna. Dmitri Solovyov, Viasna staff member, has been arbitrarily detained.

Viasna’s main office in Minsk has been raided, with Ales Bialiatski, Viasna’s Chairman, as a witness of the search. At the time of publication of this statement, the house of Mr. Bialiatski, was also being searched.

The arrests and raids are supposedly linked to a criminal case opened under Article 342 of the Belarusian Criminal Code (“organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate the public order, or active participation in them”).

Simultaneously, in the morning of February 16, 2021, the press secretary of BAJ, Barys Haretski, published an alert on social media as police officers were banging on his door. He was not detained but his equipment and money were confiscated. The house of Aleh Ageyeu, BAJ Lawyer, has also been raided, as has the house of Yevgenia Parashchenko, press secretary of the Boris Zvozkov Belarusian Human Rights House. Andrei Bastunts, BAJ Chairman, was taken by police officers of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee to witness the search of the BAJ offices in Minsk.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists and urges the authorities in Belarus to immediately put an end to the persecution and harassment, including at the judicial level, of the above-mentioned human rights defenders and journalists.

The Observatory further urges the authorities to guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.