The United Nations today voiced disappointment at the sentencing of a leading human rights defender in Belarus, and called on the authorities to immediately release all political opponents, activists and journalists jailed for exercising their rights.
Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison last week, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“We are concerned that it will have a negative impact on the ability of civil society to operate freely and without fear,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva, referring to the sentencing.
“The harsh sentence on charges of tax evasion comes as arrests, interrogation, office raids, confiscation and other forms of intimidation have stifled the space for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Belarus,” she added.
OHCHR noted that the National Assembly of Belarus has also recently approved measures further restricting freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression in the country.
Last week several UN human rights experts spoke out against the new measures, warning that they could worsen the “current climate of fear and intimidation” in the Eastern European nation.
Under the new laws, organizing public assemblies without the prior and explicit consent of the authorities is a criminal offense, and organizers also face reporting liabilities regarding the financial resources used for any assemblies. Public calls for initiating assemblies and disseminating information – including through social media platforms – about assemblies without permission is also banned.
In addition, NGOs are prohibited from storing funds in banks on foreign territory, and receiving foreign grants or donations could also be a criminal offense in some circumstances.
“We reiterate our call to the authorities in Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all political opponents, activists and journalists jailed for exercising their fundamental human rights, and to put an end to political and administrative measures designed to harass human rights defenders,” stated Ms. Shamdasani.