HRDs call to end repression and release political prisoners

7 September 2020 | Viasna
Source: Viasna

Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations

Minsk, 7 September 2020.

We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, have observed an increase in repression against the country’s citizens.

The victims of these repressive actions are representatives of various groups: university students and professors, medical workers, employees of government-owned enterprises, as well as representatives of private businesses.

All these cases of persecution testify to their politically motivated nature.

In recent weeks, the authorities have arrested a number of businessmen engaged in various public and political activities.

In particular, on 28 August, officers of the Department for Financial Investigations arrested businessman Aliaksandr Vasilevich, co-founder of the online media outlets and The Village Belarus, and the owner of the Vondel/Hepta agency and the Gallery Ў event space. Prior to that, his apartment, office and the companies he managed were searched. The Village Belarus website, along with a number of other socio-political media outlets, was blocked by the Ministry of Information.

Aliaksandr Vasilevich had previously been persecuted by the authorities for his public activities. In particular, on 28 July, Vasilevich was detained by police in the KGB building in Minsk, after he tried to file a petition requesting the release on bail of arrested presidential nominee Viktar Babaryka. The court of the Frunzienski district of Minsk sentenced Vasilevich to 14 days of administrative detention for his alleged participation in an unauthorized meeting under Part 1 of Art. 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.

On 4 September, Vasilevich was formally charged. Due to a non-disclosure agreement signed by his lawyer, it is yet unknown which charge the businessman is facing. Vasilevich himself is in custody in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk. His wife Nadzeya Zeliankova is also a suspect in the criminal case.

On 31 August, Liliya Ulasava, a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, a well-known lawyer and international mediator, partner and director of the Ulasava, Mikhel and Partners law firm, was arrested by the Department for Financial Investigations.

Later she faced criminal charges under Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion).

Earlier, members of the Coordination Council and its elected Presidium have encountered unprecedented pressure from the Belarusian authorities. Aliaksandr Lukashenka personally accused the Council of pursuing “illegal activity”, and the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case under Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (appeals to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus). The criminal investigation targeted both members of the Presidium and regular members of the Coordination Council, who have been summoned for interrogation. Members of the Coordination Council were repeatedly detained, and a member of the Presidium, Volha Kavalkova, was forcibly taken to Poland, after serving a term of detention.

On 2 September, the Minsk office of the PandaDoc software company, as well as the private apartments of some of its employees, were searched by the Department of Financial Investigations.

Four employees, Yulia Shardyka, Dzmitry Rabtsevich, Viktar Kuushynau, and Uladzislau Mikhalop, were arrested and taken into custody as suspects in a criminal case under Part 4 of Art. 210 of the Criminal Code (theft through abuse of official capacity).

Earlier, PandaDoc founder Mikita Mikada publicly condemned the political repression in Belarus. In response to the events of 6-11 August, Mikada and his business partner Siarhei Barysiuk launched an initiative called Protect Belarus to help law enforcement officers who lost their jobs after refusing to carry out criminal orders. Over the past four weeks, the initiative has received more than 500 applications for such assistance, and some of these stories have received wide media and public attention.

The arrest of Aliaksandr Vasilevich, Liliya Ulasava, Yulia Shardyka, Dzmitry Rabtsevich, Viktar Kuushynau, and Uladzislau Mikhalop is a continuation of the wave of repression that was triggered by the calling of the presidential election by the parliament in early May. Since then, thousands of citizens have been subjected to various types of repression and persecution: dismissals, administrative detention, fines, as well as politically motivated criminal prosecution.

The repression intensified in the post-election period, leading to a sharp increase in the number of people detained and arrested for political reasons. There is an apparent crisis of human rights in the country.

Given these circumstances, we conclude that the real grounds for the criminal prosecution of the above citizens are political motives aimed at terminating or decreasing their public activities.

Based on this and, guided by paragraphs 2.1, 3.1 a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, adopted at the 3rd Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, consider Aliaksandr Vasilevich, Liliya Ulasava, Yulia Shardyka, Dzmitry Rabtsevich, Viktar Kuushynau, and Uladzislau Mikhalop as political prisoners and

we insist on:

  • the immediate release of Vasilevich, Ulasava, Shardyka, Rabtsevich, Kuushynau and Mikhalop from custody;
  • the immediate cessation of repression against citizens, as well as the release of all political prisoners;

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Initiative Group “Identity and Law”

Belarusian Documentation Center

FORB Initiative

Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”

Legal Initiative

Belarusian PEN Center

Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”

Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House