Hands off Marfa, hands off Viasna, hands off human rights defenders!

Statement by the Board of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"

Minsk – February 12, 2021

On February 11, Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of the volunteer service of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, faced additional charges under Part 2 of Art. 285 (participation in a criminal organization) and Part 3 of Art. 130 (inciting hostility towards another social group committed by a group of individuals) of the Criminal Code. Marfa Rabkova has been detained for five months on charges under Part 3 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (financing and other preparation of mass riots).

According to the new charges, Marfa Rabkova faces up to 12 years in prison.

The new charges were brought against Marfa Rabkova shortly after the government-owned TV channels aired a story called “TNT of Protest”, alleging that Viasna as a whole and the volunteer coordinator, in particular, were involved in terrorist activities.

In this regard, we, members of the Board of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", note the following:

Viasna is a human rights organization pursuing legitimate goals and operating on the basis of the right of each individual or groups of individuals to protect the rights of others, according to the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

For 25 years, the organization has regularly faced acts of pressure, intimidation and harassment targeting its members for their human rights activities. In 2003, it was deprived of state registration, but continued to be engaged in human rights work.

Over the years, we have been threatened with criminal liability for acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, for discrediting the Republic of Belarus, or accused of “gross violations of applicable laws.” In 2011, Ales Bialiatski, Viasna chairman, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for allegedly “financing the Belarusian radical opposition” as a result of a politically motivated verdict handed down in violation of the principles of a fair trial. However, the organization continued its work and will continue its activities, despite these obstacles from the authorities, as our work is needed by the people of Belarus.

Since the onset of another acute human rights crisis in the country in May 2020, 18 members of our organization have experienced pressure and harassment, including administrative arrests, for their active human rights work. Four members of the organization and volunteers are currently in pre-trial detention, including Marfa Rabkova.

We once again state that Marfa Rabkova is a human rights activist of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and is being repressed exclusively for her non-violent activities to protect human rights.

Any attempts of manipulating public opinion about the alleged involvement of Marfa Rabkova and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in “terrorist activity” are pathetic, since they are only aimed smearing the activist’s reputation as a dangerous “terrorist” in the eyes of the public. This grossly violates the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus to its citizens, which in turn violates the guarantees of a fair trial.

As Marfa Rabkova noted: “The TV story is a lie and nonsense, because I was never arrested at the border for allegedly setting fire to a building in Ukraine five years ago, and during the arson of the tax inspection building in Homieĺ four years ago, I was serving a term of administrative detention after I was unlawfully and pre-emptively arrested on the eve of the “anti-parasite protests.”

As for the accusations themselves, Valiantsin Stefanovich, a member of the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, noted: “Another attempt to prosecute under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for allegedly inciting hostility to the non-existent social group of police officers and government officials is a clear example of the investigators' legal illiteracy, as it contradicts international standards of freedom of expression repeatedly formulated by international experts, including by the UN and the OSCE.”

We consider the recent attack on the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the new charges brought to a member of our organization Marfa Rabkova as a continuation of repressive actions against Viasna and representatives of the human rights community as a whole.

We demand the immediate release of Viasna activists Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, human rights defenders of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, as well as hundreds of other political prisoners.

Hands off Marfa, hands off Viasna, hands off human rights defenders!

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