On 14 July law enforcement officers searched homes and offices of several human rights activists and journalists, including EPDE’s member organizations the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The raids on Belarusian human rights defenders must be seen in close context with a recent visit of Aleksander Lukashenko to Vladimir Putin. On 13 July, Lukashenko met with Putin near St.Petersburg where both leaders agreed to strengthen economic support for Belarus in response to Western sanctions. During that meeting, Lukashenko announced harsh measures against independent Belarusian CSOs which he made responsible for destabilizing the country and exerting "individual terror". "We will find them and hold them responsible in a serious way," declared Lukashenko.
EPDE condemns the continued intimidation of human rights defenders and calls for the immediate release of all detained activists and journalists.
The recent house searches of leading independent media and human rights organizations in Belarus and the arrests of another eleven human rights activists are another blow by the Belarusian regime, against the Belarusian civil society and an attempt to criminalize its leaders and destroy its structures. The extent of the current repressions resembles a war of the illegitimate regime against its own people.
The official accusation of individual terror and destabilization of the state leveled at those arrested is something the regime, which was voted out of office by the people, has to put up with. Belarusian civil society experiences daily state terrorism, which has now driven thousands of people into Belarusian prisons and out of the country, which tears families apart and destroys lives, which endangers the economic foundations of the country and spreads endless suffering and grief in the country.
The European Platform for Democratic Elections expresses its sympathies to the families and relatives of those detained. We see that the blow against the human rights organization Viasna is also an attempt to destroy the organized independent domestic election monitoring in the country, which Viasna has built up in an exemplary and professional manner over the past 15 years.
Ales Bialiatski, the head of Viasna, was already imprisoned as a political prisoner for almost two years between 2011 and 2014 for his human rights work. He is the recipient of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award of the Council of Europe. His commitment to human rights in Belarus is a commitment to all of Europe. We are indebted to him and to the others who were arrested. Our solidarity belongs to them.
The European Platform for Democratic Elections demands the immediate release of political prisoners, and new elections under international scrutiny. The EU must not give in to the regime's attempt at blackmail, which uses its own population as a means of pressure to protest international sanctions. Human rights violations in Europe must be sanctioned. The Belarusian people deserve our friendship and support.
At 7 a.m., law enforcers came to search the house of Viasna lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich. They also searched the house of Viasna’s Board member Valiantsin Stefanovich. According to Alina, Valiantsin’s wife, the search ended at 10:30. They seized all his equipment. Valiantsin Stefanovich was taken away.
Journalist and human rights activist Siarhei Sys was detained in Minsk. His house was also searched. Details are still unknown. Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski can't be reached.
Coordinator of the Human rights defenders against death penalty campaign Andrei Paluda also reported a search. He was taken to the “Rights Territory” space where another search is planned.
The apartment of the director of the “Lawtrend” Legal Transformation Center Volha Smalianka was searched. She reported on Facebook that the search will also take place in the office of the human rights organization.
In Orsha, law enforcement officers arrested Ihar Kazmerchak, editor of the local portal orsha.eu and human rights activist. Kazmerchak had already been detained on July 8; his home was searched then. Three days later he was released from detention.
Police also came to the house of Hrodna human rights defender Viktar Sazonau. At 9:50 a.m. they stopped the search and took his computers and cell phones. The law enforcers took the human rights defender with them: his status and whereabouts are unknown now.
In addition to these, tut.by (now reporting via zerkalo.io after being shut down by authorities) reports of many other searches of journalists’ and human rights activists’ homes and offices, including