GENEVA (14 November 2017) – The recent arrests and detention of two political opponents on fabricated grounds is another demonstration of the cyclical system of oppression in Belarus, according to Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus*.
Uladzimir Niakliayeu, a poet and long-standing critic of Belarusian restrictions on freedom of expression, and Mikalai Statkevich, a leader of the Belarusian National Congress movement, both presidential candidates in previous elections, were arrested and sentenced on 1 November and 30 October respectively to 10 and five days of administrative detention. Both have already endured several similar procedures and punishment this year.
“The charges show the unchanging vigour of the country’s oppressive laws, which criminalize assembly and speech when exercised without prior permission from the authorities,” the expert said.
“It only adds to the weight of these regulations that they are used in an arbitrary, selective manner against political opponents and human rights promoters.”
Niakliayeu, who had already been arrested three times this year, allegedly called for an unauthorized protest in Minsk at the end of October, in which he did not even participate. The expert noted that he had merely replied to a question about whether he believed calls for demonstrations were justified.
Statkevich, also in a state of practically constant arrest, allegedly organized a protest against the joint Belarus-Russian Federation military exercise “Zapad 2017”, which took place in Belarus in October.
Mr. Haraszti said: “A new cycle of intimidation has started again, immediately after the release of the hundreds of people who fell victim to the massive violent crackdown in February and March, when protests erupted against a controversial law taxing the unemployed.
“Accompanying the spring onslaught, as in similar events in the last two decades, were unsubstantiated charges of armed conspiracy made against a dozen political opponents,” the expert said.
“Now, after once again cashing in on the relief of Belarus’s international partners regarding an alleged easing of the situation of opponents, the authorities have started a new cycle of oppression.
“The arrest of some of Belarus’s most famous opposition leaders is intended to demonstrate the government’s full control of the public space, and their disregard for human rights guaranteeing freedoms to assembly, association, and free speech.”
The expert recalled that Statkevich had been released after a long incarceration in 2015, but not fully reinstated in his rights. Mr Niakliayeu, also detained several times in the past, has a chronic health condition that, his doctors say, could dramatically deteriorate if he is incarcerated again. On the eve of the March protests, he was detained and held incommunicado for days without any explanation.
“The new detentions of these political leaders are only the most infamous cases among the many. They illustrate the reality of a stubbornly maintained, systemic oppression of civic rights and a cyclical detention of political prisoners,” the expert said.
“Once again, I urge the authorities in Belarus to end the 25-year long permission-based regime of public life, and the criminalization of expressions of dissent. I call on the international community to be outspoken on both the recurring flare-ups of oppression and the underlying legal deprivation of human rights in the country.”
*This statement has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, and the chairperson of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. José Guevara.