MEPs 'deeply worried' by nationwide crackdown and discriminatory election processes ahead of Presidential election
In a joint statement, MEPs Robert Biedroń, chair of the delegation for relations with Belarus, and Petras Auštrevičius, EP's standing rapporteur on Belarus, voiced their concerns over the crackdowns on peaceful protesters and civil society activists ahead of the Presidential election and over the discriminatory approach in which territorial election commissions have been composed, with fewer opposition parties’ nominees being selected than in previous elections.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections have reported on the latest incident of arrests during peacefull protests and election events
On May 29, during a picket held in Hrodna to collect signatures in support of the presidential nomination of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, police arrested Siarhei Tsikhanouski, head of the nomination group and a popular YouTube blogger, and at least 15 other people who took part in the picket.
According to reporters who covered the picket, including through livestreams, the event was peaceful and did not disturb public order, nor did it violate the provisions of Art. 45.1 of the Electoral Code.
The arrest took place after clearly illegal interference of police officers in people’s communication with Tsikhanouski.
On May 30, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said in a Telegram post that a criminal investigation had been opened into an alleged act of violence against police officers, in which Tsikhanouski and other detainees were allegedly involved. At the moment, it is known that Tsikhanouski and seven other detainees are being held in the detention center in Minsk.
The events that preceded the arrest — public statements by incumbent President Aliaksandr Lukashenka targeting Tsikhanouski, attempts by several women to disrupt the picket, illegal interference of police officers and arrest of Tsikhanouski following a blatantly prearranged fall of a police officer, and the pro-government media’s reaction to the incident — allow us to conclude that Siarhei Tsikhanouski may have become a victim of a provocation.
Based on video footage of the incident and testimonies by eyewitnesses, we conclude that there are no grounds for the arrest of Tsikhanouski, which indicates the arbitrary and illegal nature of his detention.
Earlier, Siarhei Tsikhanouski has been repeatedly prosecuted for his peaceful exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and dissemination and collection of information.
On May 6, Tsikhanouski was arrested near Mahilioŭ and placed in the pre-trial detention center in Homieĺ. The blogger was arrested by order of the Saviecki District Court of Homieĺ, which sentenced him to 15 days of administrative detention in January 2020 for participating in a protest against the advanced integration of Belarus and Russia, which took place on December 20, 2019.
On May 19, Tsikhanouski was sentenced to another 15 days of administrative detention by the Saviecki District Court of Homieĺ. The sentence stemmed from the blogger’s meetings with his subscribers in Orša and Brest.
In addition, the Saviecki District Court of Homieĺ ruled to detain Tsikhanouski for 15 days for organizing meetings with his subscribers in Salihorsk and Miory.
Thus, Tsikhanouski has been sentenced to a total of 45 days of administrative detention. According to the vlogger, he is facing seven more charges under Art. 23. 34 of the Administrative Code for organizing meetings with his subscribers in different cities of Belarus, which may result in his long-term isolation.
It was Tsikhanouski’s isolation shortly after the announcement of the presidential election and obstacles in the blogger’s access to his lawyer that prevented him from registering a nomination group to support his presidential nomination.
All the above facts allow us to assert the existence of a political motive on the part of the authorities in the persecution of Siarhei Tsikhanouski, as an attempt to sanction his public activities.
According to paragraph 3.1 of the Guidelines on the definition of a political prisoner, approved by the Belarusian human rights community at the 3rd Human Rights Forum, imprisonment of a person in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law is grounds for recognizing such a person as a political person and calling for their immediate release.
This allows us to state that the criminal prosecution of Siarhei Tsikhanouski is politically motivated, and Tsikhanouski himself is a political prisoner.
In this regard, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release Siarhei Tsikhanouski and stop his criminal prosecution;
- release and stop the criminal prosecution of other people arrested for participating in the picket on May 29, provided they did not directly commit acts of violence against police officers.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian PEN Center
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
For further election updates, see the newest weekly observation report by the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections below.