Viasna statement in connection with the sentencing of Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuk
STATEMENT ON THE VERDICT OF MARFA RABKOVA AND ANDREI CHAPIUK
On September 6, 2022, the judging panel of Minsk Municipal Court presided by Judge Siarhei Khrypach sentenced to long prison terms human rights defender and coordinator of the Human Rights Center Viasna (Viasna—hereinafter)’s volunteer network Ms. Marfa Rabkova, Viasna volunteer Mr. Andrei Chapiuk, and activists of the anarchist movement Mr. Akikhiro Hayeuski-Hanada, Mr. Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Mr. Aliaksei Halauko, Mr. Aliaksandr Kazlianka, Mr. Pavel Shpetny, Mr. Mikita Dranets, Mr. Andrei Marach, and Mr. Danila Chul. Ms. Rabkova received 15 years in a penal colony and Mr. Chapiuk—6 years.
These individuals were all arbitrarily convicted for the peaceful exercise of their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and association, and Ms. Rabkova and Mr. Chapiuk were also convicted for non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The objective investigation of the present case has been replaced by artificially selected criminal episodes, covering an incredibly long period of time, and by a tendentious interpretation of fabricated evidence. Previously, security agencies have repeatedly assessed the same evidence in the course of various checks and investigations and have found no corpus delicti in the activities of the accused or have established the non-involvement of the defendants in them. Therefore, we can state that the real purpose of the preliminary investigation was to create grounds for the imprisonment of the above persons for their beliefs and the peaceful exercise of their constitutional and universally recognized rights, and, as far as Ms. Rabkova and Mr. Chapiuk are concerned, for their uncompromisingly legitimate activities in Viasna, known for its firm commitment to exclusively peaceful means of protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The trial was held behind closed doors, in violation of both the spirit and the letter of the procedural safeguards. Anyone who would share the information that was the subject of the proceedings would face criminal liability for that. Thus, the evidence for the prosecution, some of which was obtained by torture, and their evaluation by the court, the positions of the defendants and their lawyers, and the arguments in defense of the defendants were concealed from the public. The blatant violations of the constitutional and universally recognized rights of the accused make it impossible to perceive the verdict as an act of justice that establishes guilt and eliminates doubts about the validity of the charges and the conformity of the evidence used with the principles of relevance and admissibility.
The verdict against Ms. Rabkova and Mr. Chapiuk was yet another act of reprisal against the Human rights center Viasna, its members, and volunteers. Thus, the lawyer of Viasna Homieĺ branch Mr. Leanid Sudalenka and volunteer Ms. Tatsiana Lasitsa remain imprisoned in penal colonies; the Chairman of Viasna Mr. Ales Bialiatski, a Member of Viasna Board and the FIDH Vice-President of Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, and the lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich are being held in a detention center. Dozens of Viasna veterans were arrested and searched, including human rights defenders Mr. Siarzhuk Sys, Ms. Alena Laptsionak, Mr. Viktar Sazonau, Mr. Andrei Paluda, Mr. Aleh Matskevich, Mr. Ales Kaputski, and others.
The crackdown on Viasna and its members is part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Belarus. The authorities have shut down over 800 NGOs, leaving not a single human rights NGO legally operating in the country.
The human rights community recognized 1,323 people as political prisoners.
In response to these events, the Human Rights Center Viasna once again declares:
- Viasna members and our fellow colleagues at home and abroad peacefully defend human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus, guaranteed both by the country's Constitution and international human rights standards. Any pressure and persecution of our members for carrying out these activities is politically motivated persecution aimed at undermining and destroying our organization and freedom of association in Belarus in general.
- We firmly declare that the true motivation for the persecution is our common uncompromising struggle for human rights and democratic values, against torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, as well as our actions in defense of the right to life, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly, which we share with the entire human rights community in Belarus.
- In this regard, we thank the Belarusian human rights community, international and foreign human rights organizations, activists and politicians, democratic governments and their representatives, and citizens for supporting our activities and speaking out in support of our imprisoned colleagues.
- We strongly protest the conviction of Ms. Marfa Rabkova and Mr. Andrei Chapiuk, the continuing repression against members of the organization and against civil society in Belarus as a whole, and declare that we will not stop our human rights activities.
- We demand the immediate release of Ms. Rabkova and Mr. Chapiuk, and also of Mr. Ales Bialiatski, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich, Mr. Leanid Sudalenka, and Ms. Tatsiana Lasitsa.
- We emphasize the inadmissibility of convicting the eight anarchist political prisoners solely on the basis of their beliefs and the non-violent exercise of their rights and freedoms.
- We demand to stop repression in the country and release all political prisoners.
- We call on international organizations and human rights defenders of all countries to express their strong protest against the continued flagrant human rights violations and persecution of human rights defenders in Belarus.