Statement of the Board of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Minsk - May 12, 2020
Over the past few weeks, there have been several cases of persecution and judicial harassment of members of our organization by law enforcement agencies. The persecution of Viasna human rights activists is aggravated by a new smear campaign in the country’s biggest government-owned daily, “SB – Belarus Segodnya”, aimed at discrediting members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the organization in general.
On May 7 and 9, police arrested dozens of participants in peaceful assemblies in different cities of Belarus. More than 100 of them were detained for exercising their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
Members of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, who monitored the protests, were also repressed.
In particular, on May 8, in Mahilioŭ, police detained a member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and a journalist of the human rights website mspring.online, Aliaksandr Burakou. He faced administrative charges under Art. 23. 34 of the Administrative Code (participation in an unauthorized mass event) and was detained for 72 hours before the trial. On May 11, Burakou was taken to the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ, which ruled to sentence him to 10 days of administrative detention.
Also, on May 8, there was an attempt to detain a member of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in Mahilioŭ, journalist Ales Burakou, but he managed to avoid it. However, the threat of detention remains.
On May 10, a member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” in Brest, Uladzimir Vialichkin, disappeared after monitoring a peaceful assembly of environmental activists. For two days, neither his family nor colleagues were able to learn about his whereabouts. On May 11, it became known that Vialichkin had been detained by police and taken to the Kobryn District Department of Internal Affairs. He faced administrative charges under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (participation in an unauthorized mass event). The Lieninski District Court of Brest eventually fined Vialichkin 1,350 rubles. However, the persecution of the human rights activist continues: he was detained again, taken to the pre-trial detention center for a new trial, which will take place soon.
We view Vialichkin’s groundless transportation to another city, together with failure to provide information about his whereabouts to the family and colleagues for two days, as pressure on a member of our organization to prevent or stop his legitimate human rights activities.
Of particular concern are the recent criminal investigations targeting members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna": human rights defender and environmental activist in Svietlahorsk Alena Masliukova and journalist Andrei Miadzvedzeu in Rečyca. The investigations were opened on allegations of public insult, for which responsibility is provided by Art. 189 of the Criminal Code.
We also clearly view these investigations as pressure on our colleagues in connection with their public activities to defend the rights of other citizens, collecting and disseminating unbiased information about socio-political events in the country, violations of citizens' rights, including the right to a healthy environment. Moreover, we support the decriminalization of defamation in the legislation of Belarus.
This repression against members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" are taking place against the background of the announced presidential election, which is scheduled for August 9.
In this regard, we, members of the Board of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", protest against the undisguised persecution and oppression of members of our organization for their legitimate human rights activities. Such activities are guaranteed to human rights defenders by both the Constitutions of the Republic of Belarus and international human rights standards, in particular by the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, approved by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.
We call to:
immediately release the detained members of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Uladzimir Vialichkin and Aliaksandr Burakou;
stop the ongoing investigations and other forms of harassment targeting members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Alena Masliukova and Andrei Miadzvedzeu;
take measures to implement the guarantees of human rights activities in practice, especially during the presidential election.