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Human Rights Situation in Belarus: May 2021

(June 3, 2021)



Summary of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” report:

  • in May, the authorities continued to actively prosecute people for political reasons. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, since August 2020, more than 3,000 criminal cases have been opened for violating the procedure of holding mass events and protests;
  • according to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, during the month, the courts convicted at least 109 people in politically motivated criminal trials. The monitoring of the trials conducted by volunteers and lawyers of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” revealed numerous violations of the principles of fair trial and procedural rights and guarantees of the accused;
  • there are 454 political prisoners as of June 1 and their number continues to increase;
  • detentions of peaceful protesters continued, as well as arbitrary arrests for the use of white-red-white symbols, including in private homes and territories. In May, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” obtained information about the detention of 332 people (257 of them in Minsk) and the issuance of about 240 court rulings: in 160 cases, short terms of administrative imprisonment were imposed, in 77 – fines;
  • on May 18, officers of the Department for Financial Investigations searched the offices of TUT BY MEDIA LLC (including the portal’s editorial office), as well as the residences of several key employees and journalists. On the same day, the Ministry of Information blocked access to the website. As a result of this special operation by the Belarusian security forces, 15 employees of the company and journalists were detained, including the widow of’s founder Yuliya Charniauskaya. Viasna assesses this criminal prosecution as another attack on independent journalism, aimed at destroying one of the most popular and influential news resources;
  • on May 24, as a result of the forced landing of a Ryanair plane at the Minsk National Airport with the involvement of a Belarusian Air Force fighter, Belarusian special services detained blogger Raman Pratasevich and EHU student Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen. These actions of official Minsk led to a harsh response from the EU, the U.S., the UK and Ukraine, which resulted in a ban on flights to Belarus and through the airspace of Belarus, as well as a ban on flights of the Belavia national airlines to the EU and other negative consequences;
  • many cases of ill-treatment of people detained and administratively imprisoned for participating in peaceful assemblies are still a matter of concern. The inhumane conditions of detention for this category of detainees, deliberately created by the administrations of detention facilities, are regarded by experts of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” as torture. Vitold Ashurak, a political prisoner, died in a correctional colony in Škloŭ under unknown circumstances;
  • during the month, the human rights situation in the country continued to deteriorate significantly.

Political prisoners and politically motivated prosecution

Political persecution remains the main form of repression and is becoming more and more widespread.

According to updated data from the Prosecutor General’s Office, since August 2020, prosecutors have submitted 667 criminal cases against 944 people for their “participation in riots, acts of gross violation of public order and non-compliance with the lawful demands of the authorities,” as well as “violence and threats of violence against law enforcement officers, their public insult, vandalizing property, hooliganism, and mockery of state symbols.” 682 of them have already been convicted.

Viasna is aware of at least 109 convicts in politically motivated criminal trials that took place during the month.

The number of political prisoners as of June 1 was 454, and the number continues to increase.

May was marked by a number of notable group trials against protesters and members of the political opposition.

In particular, as a result of a closed trial at the Mahilioŭ Regional Court chaired, Judge Iryna Lanchava MAYDAY, Aliaksandr Burakou said at his court hearing that he was being tortured and inhumanely treated in the city’s pre-trial detention center. The detainee was not allowed to sleep for several nights, subjected to regular checks, stripped naked in the hallway, and was not allowed to receive parcels from his family.

Narodnaya Volia, one of the country’s last surviving independent newspapers, is still unable to resume its work, as the printing houses of Belarus refuse to print the newspaper.

The Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warning to the editor-in-chief of the Novy Chas newspaper. The warning was received for three publications of February 26 and April 9.

Torture. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

The International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB) said that it was working on forwarding the evidence on recent cases of torture in Belarus for further investigation under the auspices of the United Nations. The IAPB was established to collect, verify and store data on serious human rights violations in Belarus before and after the 2020 presidential election, and then to use it for an independent criminal investigation and punishment of the perpetrators. The platform brings together human rights organizations, mainly from European countries, and is led by the Danish Institute against Torture DIGNITY.

Defendants in the politically motivated trials continue to report torture used by law enforcement in order to obtain information and confessions and to coerce detainees to appear in propaganda videos in which they confess to the crimes and repent. Detainees and convicts in administrative trial describe the shocking conditions of imprisonment in detention facilities.

Political prisoner Vitold Ashurak died in the Škloŭ penal colony on May 22. On January 18, he was sentenced to 5 years in a penal colony in a closed trial in Lida. In an attempt to refute the claims of the violent nature of the prisoner’s death, the Investigative Committee published a comment and video footage of prison security cameras, which shows that the prisoner lost consciousness and collapsed in the cell shortly before his death, but heard an appeal by Viktar Skrundzik, who was earlier sentenced to death. The Board for Criminal Cases dismissed the appeal. Now the convict has one last chance to escape the capital punishment by requesting clemency from Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

On June 30, 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the initial sentence in Skrundzik’s case. The case was sent to the Minsk Regional Court, which, despite Skrundzik’s acquittal in one of the murder counts, again sentenced him to death.

Guarantees of a fair trial

In response to the numerous violations of procedural rights and guarantees of the accused and their lawyers in politically motivated criminal cases, the leading human rights organizations of Belarus issued a  Website of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” here

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