Global perspective Human stories

Belarus: ‘Unprecedented level of repression’ must end, say UN rights experts

Protesters detained during demonstrations in Minsk, Belarus, are released from prison (file photo).
Kseniya Golubovich
Protesters detained during demonstrations in Minsk, Belarus, are released from prison (file photo).

Belarus: ‘Unprecedented level of repression’ must end, say UN rights experts

Human Rights

A large group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts on Tuesday called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all those being held on “spurious charges”, simply for exercising their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression, to be released without delay.

“The practice of incommunicado detention of members of the political opposition and prominent figures sentenced to lengthy prison terms for voicing dissent increased in 2023,” the 18 Special Rapporteurs and Human Rights Council-appointed Working Group rights’ experts said.

Tweet URL

In their statement released by UN rights office OHCHR, they reported that according to the Viasna Human Rights Centre, 1,511 people have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2020, following the disputed presidential poll in August, which saw millions take to the streets.

Average of 17 arrests daily

The centre has also documented an average of 17 arbitrary arrests and detentions a day.

While Belarusian prisons are notorious for substandard conditions, civil society organisations continue to document the systematic discriminatory placement of persons detained on politically motivated grounds in even harsher conditions than the general prison population, the experts said.

“This arbitrary practice appears to have a systemic character,” the experts said.

The harsh conditions of detention have reportedly had a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the detainees, including dissident video blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, activist and campaign strategist Maria Kalesnikava, banker and opposition leader, Viktar Barbaryka, and senior opposition figure and lawyer, Maksim Znak, whose cases have been documented by the experts.

The prisoners were reportedly denied access to timely and appropriate medical examinations and treatment, adequate legal representation and also prevented from contacting their families.

Strategic punishment

“Incommunicado detention – with a risk of enforced disappearance – is indicative of a strategy to punish political opponents and hide evidence of their ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement and prison authorities,” the independent experts said.

They deplored the lack of independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these allegations of inhuman treatment and other human rights violations, as well as the failure to provide effective remedies to detainees and their families.

Demand compliance

“The unprecedented level of repression must stop,” the experts said. “The international community must demand that Belarus comply with its international human rights obligations to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims of human rights violations.”

Independent human rights experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, under its Special Procedures.

They are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.