42 rights groups: Belarus authorities must stop persecuting civil society and engage in dialogue

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(Minsk, Paris) 7 October 2020 – Belarus’ presidential election – marred by an unprecedented level of falsifications and leading to mass protests – has been followed by brutal, ongoing repression of human rights by the authorities. Belarusian human rights groups are being targeted for documenting abuses committed by the regime and helping victims. FIDH and 41 of its member organisations demand that the Belarus authorities put an end to all forms of harassment of civil society activists, including Marfa Rabkova, and start a dialogue aiming to reach a peaceful solution consistent with the people’s demand for new, democratic elections.

Since the beginning of the campaign season, in May, authorities have arbitrarily detained close to 12,000 individuals, including peaceful protesters, presidential candidates, human rights defenders, and journalists, for exercising their fundamental freedoms. Most have been released, but around 200 remain behind bars, facing bogus criminal charges. Excessive force and arbitrary arrests have led to ill-treatment and torture of over 500 other individuals in police vans and places of detention. Yet, thus far, there has been no effective investigation into any of these violations, nor have any of the offenders been prosecuted.

Local human rights groups who document these abuses and provide legal and other assistance to victims are targeted by the authorities. Relief coordinator Marfa (Maria) Rabkova from Viasna Human Rights Centre (Viasna HRC), FIDH’s member organisation in Belarus, was arrested on 17 September 2020 and faces criminal charges under article 293.3 of the Belarus Criminal Code ("training or other preparation of persons for the participation in mass riots, or financing of such activities").

But Ms Rabkova is anything but a criminal – alongside Viasna volunteers, the 25-year-old observed peaceful rallies, campaigned for independent election monitoring, and documented evidence of torture of detained protesters. The student of the European Humanities University (Lithuania) is now in prison for her political views and human rights activism.

“Lukashenka’s thirst for power, confirmed yet again by his secret inauguration, has led to an unprecedented human rights crisis in Belarus. Widespread beatings and torture of peaceful protesters, as well as arbitrary arrests and intimidation of activists, journalists, and lawyers who reveal the abuses to the world and help the victims, continue to this day,” - Valiantsin Stefanovic, FIDH Vice President and Viasna HRC’s Vice-Chairman.

FIDH reiterates its call for authorities to stop the violence against peaceful protesters and journalists and free all political prisoners in the country. FIDH, joined by its member organisations, urges the authorities to stop persecuting civil society, including Viasna HRC’s relief coordinator Marfa Rabkova, and engage in dialogue.