Belarus must release detained Viasna activists and all other political prisoners

News 24.09.2021

Belarusian authorities must release all seven members of Human Rights Center “Viasna” who are currently detained, along with all other political prisoners, Right Livelihood told the UN Human Rights Council on Friday.

Read the entire statement.

Our statement highlighted Viasna, which received the Right Livelihood Award jointly with its founder Ales Bialiatski in 2020, during a debate on the human rights situation in Belarus at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Bialiatski, along with Viasna members Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovic, Marfa Rabkova, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Andrei Chapiuk and Leanid Sudalenka have been detained arbitrarily for their human rights work.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the ‘Viasna Seven’ and for their and all other members’ charges to be dropped,” Right Livelihood said.

The ‘Viasna Seven’ are among 672 political prisoners held in Belarus as of September 22, 2021.

“While activists and protesters are being given unfair sentences, real perpetrators of human rights abuses are enjoying complete impunity, as the investigative committee decided not to open any criminal cases despite having received almost 700 allegations of ill-treatment and torture on post-election protesters,” Right Livelihood warned.

Our statement called on the Human Rights Council to ensure the necessary resources for a UN monitoring and reporting mechanism mandated to examine all alleged human rights violations committed in Belarus since May 1, 2020.

“Continued scrutiny is crucial in ensuring accountability,” our statement said.

Belarusian authorities must also abide by their international human rights obligations and respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The calls echoed the demands of the ongoing global #FreeViasna campaign that we launched on September 17, together with other 22 non-governmental organisations. The campaign has reached 6 million people so far.

The statement was delivered at an interactive dialogue with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who gave an update on the mechanism her office had been mandated to set up to monitor the human rights situation in Belarus. She regretted that the country’s government would not cooperate with this work.

Bachelet also warned about the continued arrests and prosecution of activists, including many Viasna members, and the ongoing government crackdown on civil society organisations. She expressed concern over the allegations of ill-treatment of protesters, including women and children.

Belarus rejected the Council’s special consideration of its internal affairs and demanded that the monitoring mechanism refrains from subjective assessments.

During the debate with UN member states, two main positions emerged. On the one hand, the European Union, Nordic and Baltic states, Australia, Switzerland and the United States, among others, expressed concern over the continued attacks against human rights defenders, activists, journalists and lawyers in Belarus. They called for the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained. Germany specifically demanded the release of all Viasna members.

On the other hand, countries such as Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and Iran rejected the characterisation of Belarus as a country of concern. In their opinion, this was a clear attempt by some countries to politically interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

During the civil society segment, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya also took the floor calling for an end to Alexander Lukashenko’s reign of terror. She urged all states to support the mandate of the UN monitoring mechanism in Belarus and that of the Special Rapporteur.

“Justice must prevail, and it will,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

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