The Government of Belarus must “immediately and unconditionally” release human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, a United Nations independent expert urged today, calling on authorities to stop prosecuting rights defenders and journalists.
“Mr. Bialiatski is an internationally respected human rights defender; his engagement for human rights is well-known and broadly applauded,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Republic of Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, adding that his detention is “a symbol of the repression against human rights defenders.”
Two years ago, Mr. Bialiatski, who is head of the Human Rights Center Viasna, was detained in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on charges of tax evasion. He was later sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment with the confiscation of all his property, including assets registered to other persons. This judgment was upheld on appeal in 2012.
In addition to his work with Viasna, Mr. Bialiatski has been active is setting up the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, Lithuania, and became the Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights.
“As many other human rights defenders in Belarus, Mr. Bialiatski could not legally and without hindrance work, because of the refusal by Belarusian authorities to register his NGO [non-governmental organization],” the Special Rapporteur said, urging the Government to acknowledge human rights organizations in the country, and start cooperating with them to establish an independent national human rights institution as pledged in the nation's commitments to the UN.
“The detention of Mr. Bialiatski is clearly a consequence of him continuing his not only legitimate but also legal work under international human rights law,” Mr. Haraszti underlined, and called upon the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and rehabilitate Mr. Bialiatski and those incarcerated in violation of their human rights.
Mr. Haraszti had previously recommended this release in his June 2013 report to the UN Human Rights Council, following the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' similar call in her 2011 report on Belarus.
Earlier this year the Council had also called upon all States to ensure that the promotion and the protection of human rights are not criminalized, and human rights defenders are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work.
“I urge the Belarusian authorities to protect human rights defenders and journalists from harassment, intimidation and violence as a result of their activities, and conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations, prosecution and punishment of any such acts,” said Mr. Haraszti, reiterating the recommendation made in his report, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.