Thomas Hammarberg : the increasing repression in Belarus is worrying

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

December 19, 2011

One year has passed since the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus declared Lukashenka as the winner. What came after was an increasing and unacceptable repression, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in an article published by the weekly New Europe.

Thousands of people took part in the protest demonstrations in Minsk in the evening of the election day on 19 December 2010. They were met with indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the police, and no less than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Most of them were sentenced in summary trials to fines or administrative arrests for five to fifteen days.

A core group of prisoners faced criminal charges for having organised “mass disorder”. Among them were some opposition candidates in the elections. Andrei Sannikov was sentenced to five years in prison under a strict regime, Dmitri Uss to five and a half years and Nikolai Statkevich to six years.

There were reports that some of them had been ill-treated. The harassment has continued after the trials, including with threats against them and refusal to provide urgent health care. Particularly worrying is the situation of Dmitri Dashkevich, a leader of the organisation Young Front, whose health deteriorated following a hunger strike, and who has reportedly not been given adequate medical care.

Prisoners are moved around between institutions or declared not available when lawyers and family members seek to use their right to visit them in prison. Lawyers who have taken up their cases have been disbarred and deprived of the possibility to represent people in court proceedings.

At the same time, human rights groups have been put under systematic surveillance and pressure. The widely-respected Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, was arrested in August and has now been sentenced to four and a half years strict-regime imprisonment, confiscation of property and a heavy fine equivalent to more than 50 000 euros. There are other stark signs of pressure upon the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, whose deputy chair is now also facing trial.

Furthermore, two further death sentences have been pronounced in Belarus – following proceedings which reportedly did not respect fair trial standards – in spite of the repeated appeals from abroad against such cruel and inhuman punishment. Nowadays, executions do not take place in any other European state.

Belarus is the only country in Europe which has not qualified to join the Council of Europe and its human rights record for the past year has pushed the prospect of membership further into the future.

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