The Constitution proclaims the rights and freedoms as the supreme goal of the State.
Restrictions on the rights and freedoms shall be permitted only in cases stipulated by law in the interests of national security, public order, protection of morality, health, rights and freedoms of others.
Among other civil and political freedoms, the Constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
Since February, peaceful gatherings have been held in many cities of Belarus to protest against the government’s economic policy, including the Presidential Decree No. 3 “On the prevention of social dependency”.
Despite the peaceful nature of these assemblies, the authorities fell back on repression against the participants and organizers of these protests. The wave of repression affected leaders and activists of political parties, public associations, human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists from a number of independent media, as well as ordinary people. The authorities have been applying a wide range of the worst repressive practices: arbitrary detentions, massive use of administrative arrests, searches at the offices of pro-democratic groups and private premises, as well as heavy fines.
Of particular concern are cases of persecution of human rights defenders and journalists in connection with their professional activities.
According to available information, about 300 people have been repressed for participating in peaceful assemblies since March 3; more than 100 of them have been subjected to administrative detention.
On March 21-22, the country’s special services detained numerous citizens in the framework of a criminal case on charges of preparing for mass riots (Part 3 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code). All the detainees were taken into custody and placed in the KGB pre-trial prison and the detention center in Valadarski Street. On March 23, the KGB spokesperson said that 26 people had been detained in the case, while more detentions were possible in the near future.
These actions of representatives of law enforcement agencies were accompanied by gross violations of the detainees’ rights, in particular the unjustified use of physical force.
Of particular concern are the reports of lawyers being prohibited to visit the detainees. We regard these actions as a violation of the Constitutional right to defense.
The large-scale repression has been accompanied by a propaganda campaign in the state-controlled media, which is aimed at whipping up hysteria and an atmosphere of fear in the society. This gives us grounds to assess the repression as politically motivated.
We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, call on the authorities to:
- immediately stop whipping up hysteria and an atmosphere of fear in the Belarusian society
- release all persons who have been subjected to arbitrary detention or administrative arrest for participating in peaceful assemblies
- ensure strict compliance with all procedural safeguards to persons detained in the framework of the criminal case; refrain from any form of pressure on persons involved in the proceedings, including defense lawyers
- ensure the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly and expression; refrain from using violence against them and interfering with the journalists’ professional activities.