Human Rights Watch welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. We share the Special Rapporteur’s view that violations continued and that the legal and administrative framework for human rights further deteriorated.
Belarusian authorities have made no meaningful steps to improve the country’s poor human rights record since 2010. Instead, they continued to impose further legislative restrictions on freedom of expression (both online and offline) and freedom of assembly and association (with new restrictive amendments adopted in November 2011 and December 2014). The peaceful exercise of all these fundamental freedoms can be subject to criminal sanction.
5 people remain in prison following politically motivated prosecutions: Evgeniy Vaskovich, Nikolai Dedok, Igor Olinevich, Artem Prokopenko and Nikolai Statkevich, and one more person, Yuri Rubtsov, was convicted in October 2014. These prisoners are subjected to undue restrictions, psychological pressure, and other forms of ill-treatment as punishments. Since the beginning of 2015 two of them (Nikolai Dedok and Yuri Rubtsov) had their prison terms extended, while Nikolai Statkevich, a former presidential candidate, was transferred from the penal colony into a prison cell facility for the remainder of his six-year term. None of the prisoners who were released in 2011-2014 were rehabilitated, their criminal records have not been expunged and they remain on law enforcement agencies’ “preventative watch lists”.
The authorities continue to use arbitrary detentions, searches, interrogations and misdemeanor charges on bogus grounds to harass and intimidate government critics. For example, in 2014 authorities cancelled the residence permit of Elena Tonkacheva, a top Belarusian human rights lawyer. She is a Russian citizen and now banned from entering Belarus for 3 years. Also, in the past year authorities sanctioned dozens of journalists for cooperating with foreign media outlets and just a few months ago searched the offices of journalists and human rights defenders in Mogilev and Gomel.
The Special Rapporteur’s report has a comprehensive roadmap that the Belarusian government should implement in order to restore the space for civil society, independent media, and opposition voices. As Belarus is preparing to hold new presidential elections in the autumn, we are concerned that the human rights situation may again deteriorate on the eve and in the aftermath of the vote, with a crackdown similar to those that took place in 2006 and 2010. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur from the moment of its establishment has been extremely helpful in maintaining international attention on the ongoing repression in Belarus and in identifying which measures and reforms the Government of Belarus should undertake to put an end to its repressive policies and legislations. To maintain monitoring and facilitate rapid reaction to possible new deterioration of the situation, the Council needs to support the renewal of the existing mandate.