14 July, the morning following the adoption of the UN resolution condemning the human rights situation in the country, Belarusian authorities conducted a large-scale raid on human rights defenders. Searches took place in the offices of Human Rights Center Viasna, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Association of Journalists and apartments of their employees. At least 12 human rights activists were detained, among them FIDH’s Vice-President and Viasna’s Board member Valiantsin Stefanovic. Viasna’s President Ales Bialiatski remains unreachable. FIDH condemns the reprisals against Viasna’s employees and calls for their immediate liberation, as well as for the release of other human rights defenders in the country.
14 July, at 7 a.m., Belarus law enforcers conducted a search at the apartment of the FIDH’s Vice-President and Viasna’s Board member Valiantsin Stefanovic. According to the Valiantsin’s search warrant, he is suspected of “Organization and preparation of actions violating public order or active participation in such actions” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code) and tax fraud (Article 243 of the Criminal Code). The search ended at 10:30, the officials detained Valiantsin Stefanovic for an interrogation after the search, all his equipment was seized.
“FIDH condemns in strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Valiantsin Stefanovic, FIDH Vice-President, our colleague and friend. His persecution is unequivocally connected to his human rights work, including his participation at the UN Human Rights Council session, where he took the floor on July 5th as part of an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Anais Marin. The FIDH will remain engaged on his case until his release”,
– stated FIDH President Alice Mogwe.
Authorities conducted searches in the appartments of at least eight other Viasna’s employees, including, Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna, Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the Viasna’s campaign against death penalty, and Viasna’s members Viktar Sazonau, Alena Laptsenak, Aleh Mackevich, Ihar Kazmerchak, Aliaksandr Dzerhachou, and a former employee Maryna Statkevich. After the searches, Andrei Paluda was taken to witness a search in ‘Rights Territory Space” of which he is a director, while others appear to be detained. According to Viasna, its President and Sakharov Prize Laureate Ales Bialiatski remains unreachable.
Throughout the morning, no less than 40 searches were carried out overall at the apartments of Belarus activists and in the headquarters of the largest human rights organizations across the country. Among those targeted by the Belarusian law enforcement agencies this morning were the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Association of Journalists, journalist and human rights activist Siarhei Sys, director of the Lawtrend Legal Transformation Center Volha Smalianka, human rights activist Yauhenya Babayeva, human rights defender of the Human Constanta Kiryl Kafanau, and many others. At the time of writing, FIDH continues to receive information about new detentions and searches.
These sweeping arrests form part of a new wave of attacks against Viasna and other Belarus human rights organisations, which have been subjected to continuous acts of harassment since August 2020. Three of Viasna’s employees, including Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, and Maria (Marfa) Rabkova, remain under arbitrary arrest.