Urgent Appeal

Belarus: Ongoing searches and arrests of human rights defenders and journalists


The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations following the coordinated raids and arbitrary arrests that started on July 14, 2021.

On July 16, 2021, Belarus’ law enforcement officials conducted about 40 searches into the flats of several journalists and human rights activists, including journalists and former journalists of Belsat, Radio Liberty Belarus and Media-Polesye. The law enforcement officers also cracked open the doors of Radio Liberty Belarus office to conduct a search. It is unclear which charges, if any, the aforementioned individuals and organisations face. In addition to these searches, at least five journalists have been detained, namely, Aleh Hruzdzilovich and Inesa Studzinskaya (Radio Liberty Belarus), Hanna Haliota and Ihar Iliash [1] (Belsat), as well as freelance journalist from Brest Siarhei Skulavets, who was later released after being interrogated.

On the same day, the human rights centre “TimeAct” was raided, whereas searches took place in the houses of three members of the board of the “Legal Initiative” centre Viktoryia Fyodarava, Halina Ustsinava and Yauhen Puhach. The KGB further interrogated and searched the flat of the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’ member Valery Putsitski as a part of a criminal case under Article 289 of the Criminal Code (“act of terrorism”). Later that day, a KGB officer detained another member of ‘Viasna’, journalist and human rights defender Andrei Myadzvedzieu, after a search in his flat.

The Observatory recalls that between July 14 and 15, 2021, more than 45 searches were conducted at the homes of human rights defenders as well as at the offices of civil society organisations across Belarus. Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers, were seized during the searches. On the same days, several human rights defenders and journalists were arbitrarily detained and subsequently released after interrogation.

Furthermore, on July 14, 2021, law enforcement officers arbitrarily detained Yauheniya Babaeva, human rights defender; Siarhei Matskevich, civil society activist; and Mykola Sharah, trade union activist and member of the Polatsk human rights group. Eight members of the Human Rights Centre ‘Viasna’ were also detained, including Ales Bialiatski, Viasna’s Chairman; Valiantsin Stefanovich, Deputy Head of Viasna and Vice-President of FIDH; Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer, and his wife Nina Labkovich; Alena Laptsenak, human rights defender; Andrey Paluda, Coordinator of the Viasna’s campaign “Human rights defenders against death penalty”; Siarhei Sys; Viktar Sazonau, also a journalist; and Ales Kaputski, member of Viasna Hrodna office. The three latter were subsequently released after interrogations. Siarhei Sys and Viktar Sazonau however are under travel ban and still facing charges.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, all the above-mentioned human rights defenders remained detained for a 72-hour period within the investigation of criminal cases opened under Article 342 paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“organisation and preparation of actions violating public order or active participation in such actions”) and Article 243 paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code (“tax evasion”). Upon completion of the 72-hour detention, it will be decided whether the human rights defenders are released or stay in pre-trial detention.

On July 15, 2021, law enforcement officers went to the office of the prominent independent media outlet ‘Nasha Niva’, which has been sealed since July 8, 2021. On July 8, the police had carried out searches in their offices and subsequently arrested its Editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich, Editors Andrey Skurko and Andrey Dynko, as well as the Head Accountant Olga Rakovich, who was released in the evening of July 16, 2021.

The Observatory recalls that the above-mentioned searches and detentions started only one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus, which expresses deep concern over the unprecedented escalation in violation of human rights in the country, including systematic repression of human rights defenders and journalists, and demands the authorities to release all persons arbitrarily detained and to promptly investigate all allegations of human rights violations.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists and expresses grave concern over the high risk of torture and ill-treatment the above-mentioned human rights defenders are facing while in custody.

The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of other human rights defenders in the country, including ‘Viasna’ members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista and Marfa Rabkova, as well as the legal counsellor at the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski. The director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski remains under house arrest, while the lawyer of ‘Viasna’ HRC Dzmitry Salauyou is under a restriction order.

The Observatory urges the authorities in Belarus to immediately put an end to the persecution and harassment, including at the judicial level, of the above-mentioned human rights defenders and journalists.

The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders, journalists and activists arbitrarily detained in Belarus and to guarantee their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

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 all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Yahor Martsinovich, Andrey Skurko, Andrey Dynko, Yauheniya Babaeva, Siarhei Matskevich, Mykola Sharah, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Alena Laptsenak, Andrey Paluda, Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Marfa Rabkova, Aleh Hrableuski, Siarhei Drazdouski, Andrei Myadzvedzieu, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, Inesa Studzinskaya, Hanna Haliota, Ihar Iliash, Katsiaryna Andreyeva (Bakhavala) 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. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against the above-mentioned journalists, human rights organisations, and all their members, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. 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.

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