These raids – targeting human rights organization Viasna and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) — appear to have been in response to these organizations’ reporting on the ongoing crackdown. Indeed, the authorities have alleged that Viasna and BAJ staff members were involved in “funding protests”. Several staff members, including Viasna’s Dzmitry Salauyou and BAJ chair Andre Bastunets, were detained for “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them.” Some also had their electronics and documents seized. While most of those detained have since been released without charge, some remain in detention.
“The Belarus authorities should respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and stop harassing those reporting on the ongoing crackdown in their country” said Amal Clooney, Co-President of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.
CFJ’s TrialWatch initiative has been monitoring cases in Belarus relating to the suppression of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. A report on several such trials, which the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights monitored as part of TrialWatch, is forthcoming.
These arrests are not an isolated incident. There have been more than 27,000 arrests across Belarus since the recent presidential elections, including the arrests of close to 400 journalists. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the violent response by the authorities to protests and made clear that “[p]eople have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not suppressed.”
CFJ calls on Belarus to ensure that any arrests are lawful and not politically-motivated. It further calls on Belarus to ensure that any prosecutions respect the rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression.