The Observatory has been informed about the latest developments in the trial of Leanid Sudalenka, lawyer of the Homieĺ (Gomel) branch of the Human Rights Center Viasna1, and Tatsiana Lasitsa, Viasna’s volunteer working with Mr. Sudalenka, as well as the ongoing judicial harassment against Viasna.
On January 14, 2022, the Homieĺ District Court will consider the appeal against the November 3, 2021 verdict of the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ in the criminal case against Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa. The hearing will be held behind closed doors.
The trial of the two human rights defenders, who are prosecuted under charges of “organisation and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities” (Parts 1 and 2 of Article 342 of the Belarus Criminal Code), opened on September 3, 2021, before the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ. The presiding judge ruled to hold the trial in closed sessions during the entire proceedings. On November 3, 2021, the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ sentenced Leanid Sudalenka to three years in prison and Tatsiana Lasitsa to two and a half years in prison. Mr. Sudalenka and Ms. Lasitsa have been arbitrarily detained for almost a year in the pre-trial detention center No. 3 in Homieĺ.
The Observatory recalls that Leanid Sudalenka was arrested and interrogated on January 18, 2021 by the Investigative Committee of Belarus, without being granted access to his lawyer for several hours. In the same criminal case, Maria Tarasenka, Leanid Sudalenka’s assistant, was arrested on January 18, 2021 and subsequently released on January 21, 2021 under travel restrictions. She managed to leave the country prior to the trial and her criminal case was separated. Tatsiana Lasitsa was arrested on January 21, 2021 at the Minsk airport by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while attempting to travel from Belarus to Lithuania.
The Observatory further recalls that Leanid Sudalenka was interrogated and his office was searched on January 5, 2021, by officers of the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in connection with another criminal case opened earlier in December 2020 against a Homieĺ opposition activist, Uladzimir Nepomniashchykh, in which he is figuring as a witness.
Leanid Sudalenka, a prominent human rights defender for twenty years, has been repeatedly targeted by the Belarusian authorities, along with many Viasna members. The prosecution of the activists is part of a massive crackdown against the organisation.
As part of this crackdown, on December 30, 2021, the Čychunačny District Court of Homieĺ recognized the content of Viasna’s Telegram channel and social networks as “extremist materials”, subjecting their administrators and users to potential criminal liability. Earlier, on November 5, 2021, the Leninski District Court of Hrodna similarly recognized the website and social networks of the “Hrodna Spring” (“Haradzenskaja Viasna”), the regional “Viasna” website, as “extremist materials”.
The Observatory deplores the decision of the court to hold the appeal trial of Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa once again in closed session, which violates their right to a fair trial as enshrined inter alia in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, since it does not allow the public to verify the proper administration of justice and that the rights of the accused are duly respected.
The Observatory condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and other human rights defenders members and volunteers of Viasna, including Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrey Chapyuk, as well as the ongoing judicial harassment against Viasna, as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing the organisation and its members for their legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory urges the authorities to immediately release Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and all Viasna members along with all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Belarus and to guarantee their physical integrity, psychological well-being and right to a fair trial. The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Belarus to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, as well as against Viasna, its members, and all other human rights defenders in the country.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa and all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, Andrey Chapyuk, and all other detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
iii. Cancel the decision to hold Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa’s appeal hearing in closed session and guarantee their rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in their case;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Viasna, its members, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, and all other human rights defenders and organisations in the country, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.