OMCT: Coordinated searches and detentions of journalists and human rights defenders in Belarus
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
- 14 July 2021
BLR 007 / 0721 / OBS 080
Search and seizure /
Arbitrary detention /
July 14, 2021
The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing coordinated searches and arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights defenders, including members of the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’, as well as the organisations Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Association of Journalists, LawTrend Legal transformation Center, Human Constanta and Gender Perspectives within the investigation of criminal cases opened under Article 342 paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“organisation and preparation of actions violating public order or active participation in such actions”) and Article 243 paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code (“tax evasion”).
Since the early morning of July 14, 2021, about 30 searches have been conducted at the offices of civil society organisations as well as at the homes of human rights defenders across Belarus. Law enforcement officers have searched the houses and seized the IT equipment of ‘Viasna’ lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich and ‘Viasna’ board member Valiantsin Stefanovich. Mr. Stefanovich was arbitrarily arrested allegedly for interrogation and at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, his place of detention remained unknown. Journalist and human rights defender Siarhei Sys was also arbitrarily arrested in Minsk following a search in his house. Andrei Paluda, Coordinator of the Viasna’s campaign “Human rights defenders against death penalty”, was taken to witness a search in ‘Rights Territory Space” , following a search in his house. In the city of Hrodna, the apartment of ‘Viasna’ member Viktar Sazonau was searched and the police seized his computer and mobile phones. He was subsequently detained and his fate and whereabouts remained unknown at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. ‘Viasna’ member Alena Laptsenak was detained for interrogation following a search in her house. Moreover, Viasna’s Chairman, Ales Bialiatski, remained unreachable at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
The house of Kyril Kafanau, a lawyer from the organisation Human Constanta, was searched in Brest, as was the house of Volha Smolianka, a member of LawTrend Legal Transformation Center.
In the city of Orsha, Ihar Kazmerchak, Editor of the independent news portal Orsha.eu and member of ‘Viasna’, was arbitrarily arrested. On July 8, 2021, he had already his home searched and was kept detained for three days. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, his fate and whereabouts remained unknown. Aleh Matskevich, human rights defender from Viasna in Barysau, and his former colleague Maryna Statkevich were also arrested. Human rights defender, Yauheniya Babayeva was being interrogated at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
Furthermore, the police of Belarus have carried searches in the offices of the following civil society organisations: the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Imena journal, Gender Perspectives, BEROC Center for Economic Research, Union of Belarusians of the World "Fatherland", Office for European Expertise and Communication, Polack independent trade union, Belarusian School Association and Supolnasc Center.
The Observatory notes with concern that the above-mentioned searches and detentions are being conducted only one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus, which expresses deep concern over the unprecedented escalation in violation of human rights in the country, including systematic repression of human rights defenders and journalists, and demands the authorities to release all persons arbitrarily detained and to promptly investigate all allegations of human rights violations.
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, civil activists and journalists in Belarus.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Valiantsin Stefanovich, Siarhei Sys, Andrei Paluda, Viktar Sazonau and Ihar Kazmerchak and all other detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against the above-mentioned journalists, human rights organisations, and all their members, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iv. 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: email@example.com;
Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic 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, July 14, 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 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 and 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:
Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
 “Territory of Rights”, of which Mr. Paluda is a Director, is a platform hosting events organised by human rights organisations.