The Observatory has been informed about the recognition of Viasna Human Rights Center (HRC Viasna) as an “extremist formation” by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus.
On August 23, 2023, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued decision No. 26EC “On the recognition of a group of citizens as an extremist formation and the prohibition of its activities” regarding HRC Viasna.The information was initially shared on August 23, 2023, on the Telegram channel of the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, and on August 24, 2023, the decision was officially published.
HRC Viasna and all its branches were recognised as an extremist formation for allegedly “organising activities aimed at preparing attacks on the sovereignty and public security of the Republic of Belarus, discrediting and insulting officials.”
This decision means that any individual involved in any transfer of information to or collaboration with representatives of HRC Viasna will be recognised as a participant of the extremist formation and can be prosecuted under Articles 361-1 (Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it) and 361-4 (Promotion of extremist activity) of the Criminal Code of Belarus and face up to seven years’ imprisonment.
Previously, on August 9, 2023, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) issued a decision “On recognising a group of citizens as an extremist formation and banning its activities,” declaring the Homiel regional branch of HRC Viasna as an extremist formation and adding them to the “list of organisations involved in extremist activities.” On August 14, 2023, the KGB also added the social media accounts and website of the Homiel branch of HRC Viasna to the country’s List of Extremist Content.
The Observatory underlines that reprisals against HRC Viasna and its members aim at making impossible documentation of and reporting about human rights violations in Belarus and are part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Belarus following the mass protests against the 2020 Presidential election fraud. HRC Viasna is one of the leading Belarusian human rights organisations and has long been at the forefront of the Belarusian human rights movement.
The Observatory believes that recognising HRC Viasna as an extremist formation is a further step in a campaign of repression against its members and supporters. Belarusian authorities have consistently used “extremist” charges to cut human rights organisations from supporters, exposing anyone engaging with them to administrative and criminal persecution. Currently, five HRC Viasna members are in long-term imprisonment on trumped-up charges: chairman Ales Bialiatski, deputy chairman Valiantsin Stefanovic, lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, Volunteer service coordinator Marfa Ryabkova, and volunteer Andrei Chapiuk. The Observatory calls once again for their immediate release.
The Observatory strongly condemns the recognition of HRC Viasna as an “extremist formation”, which seems to be only aimed at punishing the organisation for its legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory urges the authorities in Belarus to immediately repeal the decision to recognise HRC Viasna as an “extremist formation” and to put an end to the judicial harassment of all human rights defenders and organisations in the country.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Belarus, asking them to:
- Immediately repeal the decision to recognise HRC Viasna as an “extremist formation” and remove the organisation’s Homiel regional branch from the “list of organisations involved in extremist activities”.
- Put an end to the use of loosely defined “anti-extremist” legislation to target human rights organisations and dissenting voices in Belarus, as well as to the judicial harassment of all human rights defenders and organisations in the country;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and all other detained human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
- Guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders of the Viasna Human Rights Center, and cease any act of criminalisation or judicial harassment against them;
- Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law, particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: email@example.com;
- Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: email@example.com;
- H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Belarus in your respective country.