Following a renewed crackdown on February 16, 2021, Human Rights House Foundation demands that Belarusian authorities immediately cease their coordinated and on-going attack against journalists, human rights defenders and organisations. Authorities must drop charges against and release detained human rights defenders and journalists and cease other attacks, including searches of the homes of human rights defenders, journalists, and their family members. The Belarusian authorities’ most recent actions of February 16 represent a deepening trend in Belarus’ on-going human rights violations and disregard for its international obligations.
On February 16, 2021, Belarusian authorities launched what appears to have been a coordinated campaign of searches of human rights organisations and searches and detentions of human rights defenders and journalists in Minsk, Homiel, Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Hrodna. The authorities searched the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) for three hours, seized membership information and other documents and equipment and later sealed the offices. The authorities detained or targeted in police raids at least 25 human rights defenders working largely for two member organisations of the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, BAJ and Human Rights Center “Viasna”.
It appears that the raids on February 16, 2021 are linked to a criminal case opened under Article 342 of the Criminal Code, which is related to the organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them. The Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBAZIK) appears to have conducted today’s actions, which were sanctioned by the Prosecutor General’s office.
Among those targeted by the authorities on February 16, 2021 include:
- Aleh AHEYEU, Deputy head of BAJ: detained and later released, authorities confiscated his equipment and money.
- Andrei BASTUNETS, Chair of BAJ: taken from his home by police to BAJ offices to search BAJ offices; son’s home was searched and equipment confiscated.
- Barys BUHEL, Member of Mahilou Branch of Viasna: home searched and detained.
- Barys HARETSKI, Press secretary for BAJ: detained, later released, equipment and money confiscated.
- Aliaksei KOLCHYN, Member of Mahilou Branch of Viasna: home searched and possibly detained.
- Alena MASLYUKOVA, Head of Svetlahorsk Branch of Viasna: office searched.
- Andrei MEDVEDIEV, member of Viasna: home search, equipment confiscated.
- Andrei PALUDA, “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty” Campaign Coordinator for Viasna: office searched
- Yauhenia PARASHCHANKA, Press Secretary of Barys Zvovzskau Belarusian Human Rights House: home searched and parent’s home searched.
- Kristina RICHTER, Lawyer for BAJ: home searched, phone and documents related to BAJ’s activities confiscated.
- Dzmitry SALAUYOU, Human rights activist for Viasna: home searched and detained
- Pavel SAPELKA, Human right lawyer for Viasna: home searched, equipment seized.
- Natallia SATSUNKEVICH, Human rights activist of Viasna: mother’s home searched.
- Uladzimir TSELIAPUN, Head of Mazyr Branch of Viasna: office searched.
Today’s action is another step by the Belarusian authorities to stifle dissenting opinion, and crush the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression in Belarus. They are clearly reprisals by the authorities for organisations and individuals doing legitimate work to promote and protect human rights in Belarus. Today’s actions were linked explicitly to Article 342 of the Criminal Code and follow a deeply worrying trend of using the criminal code to target human rights defenders, including journalists.
Among those previously targeted through the use of this article include:
- Leanid SUDALENKA, head of Viasna’s Homiel Branch: detained on January 18, 2021 and later charged under article 342. His home and office were both searched. He faces up to 3 years imprisonment and is currently detained in Homiel pre-detention center no. 3.
- Tatsiana LASITSA, human rights activist and volunteer for Viasna’s Homiel Branch: detained at Minsk airport on January 21, 2021 while attempting to travel to Lithuania and charged under article 342. She is currently detained in Homiel pre-detention center no. 3.
- Marfa RABKOVA, volunteer coordinator of Viasna: detained on September 27, 2020 on charges of financing and preparing mass riots. Authorities subsequently expanded her charges to include inciting social hostility to the government by a group of unidentified individuals under Article 130 of the Criminal Code. She remains in detention and faces up to 12 years in prison.
- Andrei CHAPIUK, volunteer for Viasna: detained on October 2, 2020 and charged with participation in riots. He remains in detention.
Attacks against other human rights defenders and associations which carry out legitimate human rights work continue and must also immediately cease.
Among those also targeted by Belarusian authorities include:
- Ales BURAKOU, human rights defender and freelance journalist in Mahilou: office searched on February 16, 2021.
- Sergey DROZDOVSKY, Director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: subjected to cruel and degrading treatment for 7 hours while being questioned by the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee on February 2, 2021; detained on February 3, 2021 in Minsk and charged with the illegal use of funds.
- Aleh HRABLEUSKI, Legal Counsel for the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: subjected to cruel and degrading treatment for 7 hours while being questioned by the FInancial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee on February 2, 2021; detained on February 3, 2021 in Minsk and charged with the illegal use of funds.
- Nikolai KVANTALIANI, human rights defender: home searched on February 16, 2021.
- Andrei STRYZHAK, Coordinator for BY_SOL: parents’ home search on February 16, 2021, mobile phone and discs confiscated.
Today’s actions by the Belarusian authorities targeting journalists, human rights defenders, and human rights organisations is another in a series of brazen attacks designed to stifle dissenting opinion and intimidate. They represent another step in Belarus’ violation of its international human rights obligations. Human rights defenders, including journalists, do legitimate work in promoting and protecting human rights. All attempts to harass, intimidate and persecute human rights defenders, including journalists, and those who support them must stop immediately.
Top photo: Demonstrations in Minsk.