A new wave of arbitrary arrests, the use of the death penalty and violations of media freedom in Belarus have prompted a UN expert to call on the authorities there to respect their human rights obligations and implement recommendations made over the past two decades.
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, said: “Last weekend, the authorities in Belarus again massively violated the right of citizens to assemble peacefully in the capital, Minsk, and elsewhere in the country. This shows both a symbolic and practical rejection by the country’s President for any progress on human rights.”
Demonstrators had gathered on Sunday, 25 March to mark the centenary of the independence of Belarus, Freedom Day. However, more than 100 peaceful marchers, political activists and journalists were either prevented from leaving their apartments or were detained during the rally.
Many were charged with failing to respect the procedure for organising a mass event under a much-criticised law which treats lack of authorisation for any public gathering as a crime.
Leading opponents and former candidates for the presidency were among a number of people subjected to pre-emptive house arrest a few days earlier on 21 March. Among them were former presidential candidate Mikhail Statkevic and prominent writer Uladzimir Nyakljajeu.
“Reports that activists were arbitrarily detained in cities such as Babrujsk, Brest, Sluck and Mahiliou, should remind us that repression in Belarus is centrally planned and organised by the authorities,” Mr. Haraszti said.
“This unending wave of repression keeps society in a constant state of paralysis,” the Special Rapporteur stressed. “In March last year, hundreds of individuals were arbitrarily detained and charged after taking part in unauthorised protests over a presidential decree that levied taxes on those unemployed for more than six months. Similarly, in October last year, a round of retaliation hit both alleged and actual participants of the so-called March of the Discontent.”
In Sunday’s clampdown, volunteers of the respected human rights organisation “Viasna” were again specifically targeted, he said.
“Suppression of the right to free speech also continues unabated throughout the country where the State exercises absolute control of the media. The Ministry of Information in January 2018 announced the blocking of the Charter97.org website, which is known as a hub for critical views of the government. It had been alleged that the law on mass media had been infringed but no proof was provided,” the expert added.
“Belarus continues to hold opponents in jail, despite claims of having released all political prisoners. I am particularly worried about the situation of Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, who was reportedly beaten by another prisoner recently. I urge the authorities to look carefully into this matter and to release Mr. Zhamchuzhny and other political opponents,” Mr. Haraszti said.
The Special Rapporteur also called for an end to the use of the death sentence in Belarus, saying the country continued to distinguish itself in Europe by refusing to do so. There are currently seven people on death row, including two sentenced in January this year.
“The judicial killing machine continues to blatantly ignore international criticism and recommendations for death sentences to be commuted into life sentences, while calls for the adoption of a moratorium on the death penalty remain unheard,” the expert regretted.
“Last year marked a severe degradation of the human rights situation in Belarus. During the first quarter of this year, I see neither changes nor attempts or even plans to end the deprivation of the Belarusian people of their basic rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Mr. Haraszti repeated his calls for the authorities to respect the rights and fundamental freedoms of Belarusian citizens.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. We have a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights.