Judicial harassment against Viasna Human Rights Centre
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
- 10 March 2021
BLR 004 / 0321 / OBS 032
Judicial harassment /
Obstacle to freedom of association /
March 10, 2021
The Observatory has been informed about the judicial harassment against the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’ as reprisals for its work documenting human rights abuses and providing legal assistance to victims amid the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in Belarus.
On February 16, 2021, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus revealed that a preliminary investigation into the activities of “organisations that position themselves as human rights organisations” was ongoing. It is clear that the statement of the Investigative Committee refers to ‘Viasna’: on the same day, within the framework of the preliminary investigation, the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted searches in Viasna’s headquarters in Minsk, the offices of its regional branches, in the apartments of ‘Viasna’’s employees and in apartments of dozens of other human rights defenders and activists across the country. Earlier, a criminal case was opened into Viasna’s activities under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus on “organising or preparing actions that grossly violate the public order or taking active part in such actions”.
On February 24, 2021, in connection with the visit of foreign diplomats to ’Viasna’ on February 22, 2021, the press secretary of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus confirmed that "judicial proceedings are conducted against the employees of an officially unregistered non-governmental organisation in connection with suspicions of illegal financial activity, including the use of illegal resources from abroad”.
On March 1, 2021, the officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested Dzmitry Salauyou, board member of ‘Viasna’, in Minsk and took him to the Investigative Committee’s city office, where he was interrogated as a suspect as part of the above-mentioned criminal case under Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code. After the interrogation, Mr. Salauyou was released but he remains under travel restrictions pending investigations.
The Observatory recalls that on February 16, 2021, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained after his house was raided and his IT equipment and documents were seized, as part of a massive crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in the country. Mr. Salauyou was reportedly beaten during his arrest and in a minibus on the way to the detention center. On February 18, 2021, Dzmitry Salauyou was sentenced to 12 days of administrative detention, after the Minsk District Court found him guilty of “illegal picketing” (Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code). The charge stems from a bas-relief of the Pahonia coat of arms found on his house, which the police argued was a symbol of protest.
The Observatory further recalls that ‘Viasna’ has been subjected to continuous acts of harassment since August 2020, including acts of intimidation, the search and raiding of their offices and the ongoing arbitrary detention of its members, namely Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, who are both accused under the same case as Dzmitry Salauyou, as well as Maria Rabkova and Maryna Kastylianchanka.
The Observatory strongly condemns the judicial harassment of ‘Viasna’ which seems to be only aimed at punishing the organisation and its members for their legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista, Maria Rabkova and Maryna Kastylianchanka as well as the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Dzmitry Salauyou.
The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to put an end to any acts of harassment against ‘Viasna’ and all its members, and to immediately and unconditionally release the above-mentioned human rights defenders.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of ‘Viasna’’s members and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment -including at the judicial level- against ‘Viasna’ and all its members, including Dzmitry Salauyou, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iii. Immediately and unconditionally release Maria Rabkova, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and Maryna Kastylianchanka, and drop all charges against them, as their detention is arbitrary and the criminal charges against them seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
iv. Carry out an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into alleged above-mentioned acts of ill-treatment against Dzmitry Salauyou in order to bring all those responsible before a competent tribunal in accordance with international standards;
v. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
· Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: email@example.com;
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Geneva-Paris, March 10, 2021
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39