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Belarusian Authorities Further Tighten Chokehold on Civil Society

Arrests, Harshened Criminal Charges against Human Rights Defenders

Solidarity action with Viasna’s imprisoned human rights defenders in Warsaw, Poland, September 2021. © 2021 Human Rights Center “Viasna”

This week, prominent Belarusian human rights organization Viasna reported that its Head Ales Bialiatski, Deputy Chair Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Free Election Campaign Coordinator Uladzimir Labkovich, who have already been behind bars for over 14 months on bogus tax evasion charges, now face up to 12 years in prison on new, harsher charges of “smuggling” money and “financing group actions gravely violating public order.”

Last Sunday, Bialiatski marked his 60th birthday in a dark basement cell with severely restricted correspondence.

On September 23, the head of Viasna’s office in Homiel, Leanid Sudalenka, also spent his birthday in the penal colony where he is serving a three-year sentence on bogus charges of, “organizing actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities.” His correspondence and family visits are also restricted.

On September 6, Minsk city court sentenced 2 other Viasna members, Maria (Marfa) Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk to 15 and 6 years’ imprisonment respectively on trumped up charges.

Following the verdict in Rabkova’s and Chapiuk’s case, authorities detained prominent Belarusian human rights defender Nasta Lojka, among others, who had been at the court building to support her colleagues.

Lojka was sentenced to 15 days detention on administrative charges of “petty hooliganism.” Instead of releasing her at the end of that term, authorities sentenced her to 15 more days on the same charges. This is not the first time the Belarusian government have imprisoned critics back-to-back on spurious administrative charges, keeping them arbitrarily locked up for months on end. Nasta was denied access to her lawyer and the authorities also refused her requests for medication, warm clothes, and hygiene products.

Last year, authorities shut down Nasta’s organization, Human Constanta, and blocked its website. She was also named a suspect in a “tax evasion” case against Viasna and was subject to raids and interrogations.

Over the past two years, Belarusian authorities have purged the country of civic organizations, effectively criminalizing human rights work. Shocking sentences, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment are consistently used by the government in reprisal against those who bravely persist in the fight for rights and freedoms. Belarusian human rights defenders need international attention and assistance like never before.

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