Belarus: Free Viasna members and other activists

On September 6, the Minsk City Court will announce the verdict in the politically motivated and harrowing case of human rights defenders Maria (Marfa) Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk. In a climate of widespread repression of civil society in Belarus, 19 organizations call for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country.

On September 6, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. Minsk time, after 17 months of investigation and over four months of closed hearingsthe Minsk City Court will render its judgment in the trial of Maria Rabkova, coordinator of the voluntary service of the Human Rights Center Viasna, and Andrei Chapiuk, volunteer for Viasna. The two men were arbitrarily detained on September 17, 2020 and October 2, 2020, respectively, in retaliation for their peaceful human rights activities. During almost two years of detention, the state of health of Marfa Rabkova has deteriorated considerably due to lack of adequate health care.

The trial against Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk implicates eight other people and has been going on since April 25, 2022. All defendants are falsely accused of organizing criminal groups between 2016 and 2020. Marfa Rabkova faces charges under 10 articles of the Penal Code, including “organizing mass riots”, participating in them and training people to participate in them (art. 293, parts 1-3) and others types of preparation, “incitement to social hostility towards the government” (art. 130) and “involvement in a criminal organization” (Part 2 of art. 285), and faces up to 20 years in prison . For his part, Andrey Chapiuk is accused of “participation in mass riots” (Part 2 art. 293 of the Penal Code) and “involvement in a criminal organization” (Part 2 of art. 285 of the same Code) and faces eight years in prison.

The proceedings against them have also been marred by human rights violations: three of the defendants claim to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by KGB agents and the hearings are being held behind closed doors.

The real reason for the detention and prosecution of Viasna activists appears to be the organization’s human rights activities and its strong stance against government repression. Viasna has long been at the forefront of the Belarusian human rights movement, notably being famous for maintaining a list of political prisoners in Belarus, which now numbers more than 1,300 people. In her role, Marfa Rabkova encouraged volunteers to engage in human rights work, coordinate election and protest observation campaigns, and document torture.

The reprisals against Viasna and its members are part of a wider crackdown on civil society in Belarus. In 2021 alone, the authorities close more than 275 human rights organizations and other independent organizations, leaving no human rights NGOs operating legally in the country. In addition, legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 reintroduced criminal liability for “acting on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organizations”. The liquidation of all independent human rights organizations by the authorities has therefore led to a de facto criminalization of human rights work. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, enshrined in international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Belarus, have been seriously and continuously violated by the authorities in recent years, which has had a chilling effect on civil society in the country.

The signatory organizations condemn the ongoing arbitrary detention of Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk as well as that of Ales Bialiatskichief of Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovicmember of the Viasna board of directors and vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Uladzimir Labkovichlawyer and coordinator of the ‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’ campaign, Leanid Sudalenkalawyer from the Homieĺ (Gomel) branch of Viasna, and volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsaand call for their immediate and unconditional release, the quashing of the convictions against Sudalenka and Lasitsa, and an end to arbitrary administrative and criminal proceedings against all those awaiting trial.

The signatory organizations reiterate their support for Viasna and all its members and urge the Belarusian authorities to fully respect their international human rights obligations, as well as to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and organizations and to ensure that they can work without reprisals or intimidation. .

Signatories:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. SECTION 19
  3. Belarusian House of Human Rights Barys Zvozskau
  4. Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  6. Civil Rights Defenders
  7. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  8. Front line defenders
  9. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
  10. Human Rights House Foundation
  11. Human Rights Watch
  12. International Partnership for Human Rights
  13. Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights
  14. Dutch Helsinki Committee
  15. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  16. Östgruppen (Swedish Initiative for Democracies and Human Rights)
  17. People in need
  18. good livelihood
  19. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

About Bernice D. Brewer

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