The Viasna Human Rights Center has opened a new office in Minsk at 8-26 Merzhinsky Street.
At a press conference to mark the office’s opening, human rights defenders presented two reports completed since the former office closed in 2012: a survey of the human rights situation in Belarus in 2012, and an analysis of the situation regarding the penitentiary system in Belarus.
In his remarks, Valentin Stefanovich, vice-president of the Center, said: “Today we will tell you about the results of our work, which never ceased while our office was closed. We focused on analytical work, specifically the preparation of a report on the human rights situation in Belarus. It was published as a brochure and summarizes the results of the monitoring we conduct every year. As far as the report on the penitentiary system is concerned, it is based on an analysis of letters sent from prisons by regular prisoners.” The former attorney Pavel Sapelko assisted Valentin Stefanovich in preparing the second report.
Assessing the situation with human rights in Belarus, Valentin Stefanovich said that it remains very complicated. In his opinion, the laws have become more repressive, and fundamental human rights like freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and expression are not being observed.
According to Stefanovich, the most important issue for the human rights defenders at Viasna is the release of political prisoners, who remain deprived of their rights. He noted the importance of the EU’s principled position that the release of political prisoners is the main condition for commencing negotiations with official Minsk.
Stefanovich also pointed out that 11 political prisoners remain behind bars and another 38 former political prisoners are still being deprived of their rights. These people, like Khalip and others, have received conditional sentences and have been placed under preventative supervision. Over the past year, only the situation of only two people—Pochobut and Parfenkov—has improved somewhat.
In regards to the new office, Stefanovich announced that the apartment now housing Viasna’s office belongs to a foreigner: “Considering the situation in our country, it’s important that the owners of apartments used by organizations like Viasna live outside of Belarus in order to avoid prosecution by the government. We are using this office under a letter of authority, and we are counting on being able to work in it for a long time.”
A community liaison office will open at the new address.
The Viasna Human Rights Center will continue to track the situation with human rights in Belarus, monitor election campaigns, including upcoming local elections and the presidential election 2015, and work on current projects, like setting up a human rights school.
Photo: Radio Svaboda