Viasna protests ongoing repression of its activists
Statement by the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”
March 5, 2020
The Main Department for Investigation of Crimes in the Sphere of Organized Crime and Corruption of the Central Office of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus is reportedly investigating the activities of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”.
The criminal case was opened under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order). At the moment, the case involves active investigative actions, including searches in the organization’s local offices and in the apartments of Viasna members, interrogations of activists and other procedural actions. Dzmitry Salauyou, a member of the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, is a suspect in the case and is under travel restrictions. Obviously, the list of persecuted activists is likely to be expanded.
According to the official comments by officers of the Investigative Committee, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” allegedly provides funding and other material support for illegal mass events that pursue the goals grossly violating public order.
Earlier, similar charges were used to imprison Viasna human rights activists and volunteers Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, while the government-owned media accused Viasna of involvement in terrorism.
In this regard, we, members of the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, note the following.
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in April this year, is a voluntary association of citizens acting in accordance with the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees the right of each individual or group of individuals to protect the rights of others. Such activity fully complies with the Constitution of Belarus and must be guaranteed by the state.
Throughout the 25 years, our organization has regularly faced acts of pressure, intimidation and harassment of its members for carrying out human rights activities. In 2001, the organization was illegally deregistered and forced to operate for the past 18 years without registration from the Ministry of Justice. In 2011, the association’s chairman, Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for receiving foreign aid for the organization’s human rights activities.
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” has never been organizer of any violent actions and has always advocated the peaceful exercise of civil and political freedoms.
At the same time, we once again note that the protests against the rigged presidential election of August 2020 were predominantly peaceful. Despite this, disproportionate force, riot equipment and weapons were used against the protesters. The most egregious fact is the use of mass and systematic torture against detained protesters by law enforcement officials.
In the current situation of acute human rights crisis, the activities of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” are aimed at helping victims of political repression and pervasive human rights violations. To this end, we actively cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including within international organizations, the OSCE and the United Nations among others.
We consider the criminal prosecution of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” as another act of repression in connection with our human rights activities. The persecution is orchestrated by the current authoritarian political regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka against the background of unprecedented nationwide repression.
These actions of the Belarusian authorities grossly violate a number of international agreements to which the Republic of Belarus is a party, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the OSCE Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Association.
We protest against the ongoing repression against our organization and its members. We will never stop our legitimate human rights activities for the benefit of the entire Belarusian society, aimed at promoting the ideas and values of human rights and democracy.
We call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately stop the criminal prosecution against the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the persecution of its members;
- immediately release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, our partners from the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, as well as hundreds of other political prisoners;
- stop the practice of arresting and prosecuting human rights defenders in Belarus;
- guarantee the opportunity for all human rights defenders in Belarus to carry out their legal human rights activities in any circumstances without restrictions and without fear of retaliation, including without the risk of prosecution.