(Geneva) – The High Commissioner’s report on the situation in Belarus compellingly describes the widespread, brutal, and violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and their supporters in the context of the recent presidential vote. It also details the authorities’ politically motivated arrests of key opposition figures, and their efforts to intimidate and silence people – workers, students, human rights activists, etc. – who, through the end of 2020, continued to call for change.
The report encapsulates the unprecedented human rights crisis that the government has created in the lead-up to and aftermath of the August 9, 2020 presidential vote by arresting record numbers of protesters, providing impunity to police responsible for hundreds of documented incidents of beatings, detaining ever larger numbers of journalists.
In recent weeks, authorities have escalated this crisis by targeting human rights defenders who have provided legal assistance and other support to victims of the crackdown – those arrested, tortured, fired from their jobs – and against journalists and others who unflinchingly continue to report on protests or expose flagrant abuse. Just last week, authorities launched nationwide raids against these human rights defenders and journalists as part of so-called criminal investigations into their alleged organization of and participation in protests. Two journalists received a two-year prison sentence merely for live streaming a peaceful protest.
Last week’s actions indicate that officials are willfully and malevolently equating certain aspects of human rights and journalism work with criminal public order violations. This is a warning sign of a potential massive wave of groundless, politically motivated criminal cases against the people who have been reporting on the protests, documenting and exposing human right abuses, and providing assistance to victims.
We urge members of this Council to establish a mechanism strengthening scrutiny, investigation, and public reporting on Belarus, with a view to identifying perpetrators and holding them to account.