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  • Civil society groups reaffirm continued solidarity with Belarusian political prisoners

    Today, marking the Day of the Political Prisoner in Belarus, the undersigned organisations reiterate our condemnation of the Lukashenko regime's ruthless crackdown on civil society and independent media. We continue to stand in solidarity with courageous Belarusians who persist in their fight for freedom. The international community will keep demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners.  



    In the shad­ow of Russia’s ongo­ing inva­sion of Ukraine, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties have dou­bled down on the repres­sion of dis­sent­ing voic­es. The judi­cial harass­ment of jour­nal­ists, artists, activists and any­one who dares to claim their fun­da­men­tal rights has become one of the most noto­ri­ous weapons in a vast arse­nal deployed by the Lukashenko regime to strength­en his auto­crat­ic rule.

    The pro­found­ly com­pro­mised judi­cia­ry con­tin­ues to hold closed-door show tri­als and hand down harsh jail sen­tences to quell any remain­ing oppo­si­tion. Accord­ing to Vias­na, one of the old­est and most promi­nent rights groups in the coun­try, as of the end of April, there were 1,495 polit­i­cal pris­on­ers in Belarus and more than 3,200 peo­ple con­vict­ed in polit­i­cal­ly-moti­vat­ed crim­i­nal tri­als. From the moment of its cre­ation almost three decades ago, Vias­na has been at the fore­front of the rights move­ment in Belarus, strength­en­ing civ­il soci­ety and pro­mot­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion. This unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment has led to it being tar­get­ed by a series of base­less and abu­sive crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions. Six of Viasna’s mem­bers are cur­rent­ly in jail, includ­ing its chair­per­son and Nobel Peace Prize lau­re­ate Ales Biali­ats­ki, who was sen­tenced to 10 years in prison in March 2023.

    The regime pros­e­cutes Belaru­sians based on trumped-up charges such as ‘gross­ly vio­lat­ing pub­lic order,’ ‘incit­ing hatred’, ‘tax eva­sion’ or ‘ter­ror­ism’. Those who share pub­li­ca­tions from inde­pen­dent media out­lets are accused of dis­sem­i­nat­ing extrem­ist mate­ri­als, effec­tive­ly mak­ing the activ­i­ties of these out­lets ille­gal. At the begin­ning of March, law enforce­ment detained over 100 peo­ple in what they claimed to be an inves­ti­ga­tion into ter­ror­ist and extrem­ist groups. 

    The process of dis­man­tling civ­il soci­ety in Belarus has been exac­er­bat­ed by heav­i­ly restrict­ed access to infor­ma­tion, man­i­fest­ed in the ruth­less hunt for jour­nal­ists. Belarus has been dubbed ‘Europe’s most dan­ger­ous coun­try for jour­nal­ists’, with 33 media work­ers cur­rent­ly behind bars, accord­ing to the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ) — the lead­ing jour­nal­is­tic organ­i­sa­tion in the coun­try. BAJ has been labelled an ‘extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion’, and has been forced to oper­ate in exile since the Supreme Court ruled to liq­ui­date the group in August 2021. The courts have also been used to ban or block hun­dreds of news web­sites that expose state pro­pa­gan­da. The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of inde­pen­dent media out­lets were forced to either flee or cease their oper­a­tions. Those who have stayed are exposed to house raids and inces­sant intim­i­da­tion, includ­ing mali­cious crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. In one of the lat­est show tri­als, Mary­na Zolata­va and Lyud­mi­la Chek­ina, senior staff at inde­pen­dent out­let Tut.by, Belarus’ most pop­u­lar online news por­tal before its forced clo­sure by author­i­ties in 2021, were each sen­tenced to 12 years in prison.

    Cul­tur­al figures—including writ­ers, poets, musi­cians and playwrights—are also held as polit­i­cal pris­on­ers for their expres­sion, com­mon­ly for crit­i­ciz­ing the Lukashenko regime or even for pub­lish­ing books in Belaru­sian. The writ­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion PEN Belarus found that over 100 cul­tur­al work­ers were among the over 1400 polit­i­cal pris­on­ers in the coun­try in 2022.

    Polit­i­cal pris­on­ers are held in degrad­ing and inhu­mane con­di­tions with very lim­it­ed con­tact with the out­side world, their fam­i­lies or their lawyers. They are kept in over­crowd­ed, cold cells and are deprived of food, water, and med­ical care. Blog­ger Mikalay Klimovich, who was jailed for post­ing an online car­i­ca­ture of Lukashenko, died in prison on 10 May. Human rights defend­er Nas­ta Loj­ka has report­ed on the degrad­ing treat­ment and tor­ture she has expe­ri­enced dur­ing pro­longed pre-tri­al deten­tion. Belaru­sian author­i­ties dis­barred her lawyer, reject­ed her request for den­tal treat­ment, and denied her access to med­ica­tion and warm clothes. Jour­nal­ist Kse­nia Lut­ski­na, who is serv­ing a 8‑year prison sen­tence on charges of con­spir­ing to seize state pow­er, has a pre-exist­ing brain tumor that has grown in deten­tion and is not receiv­ing appro­pri­ate med­ical care.

    Phys­i­cal threats are accom­pa­nied by men­tal dis­tress. Each prison sen­tence severe­ly dis­rupts and cru­el­ly sep­a­rates fam­i­lies. Due to the regime’s clam­p­down on fun­da­men­tal rights, as well as arbi­trary rules restrict­ing how loved ones can com­mu­ni­cate with and vis­it their detained rel­a­tives, the per­se­cu­tion extends through­out fam­i­lies across the coun­try. When Vic­tor was detained, his wife first told their chil­dren he was on a busi­ness trip but the sto­ry fell short as the sep­a­ra­tion pro­longed. Chil­dren tried to call their dad record­ing touch­ing voice mes­sages, and did not want to eat with­out Vic­tor com­ing home. Victor’s lit­tle daugh­ter start­ed to fear police cars. 

    On 15 March, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment adopt­ed a new res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the regime’s con­tin­ued sys­tem­at­ic repres­sion of the Belaru­sian peo­ple. How­ev­er, the Lukashenko regime has failed to address any of the legit­i­mate con­cerns or calls repeat­ed­ly made by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty over the past two years. While it seems Lukashenko has no inten­tion of stop­ping the crack­down on civ­il soci­ety and media free­dom, we, the under­signed rights organ­i­sa­tions, will con­tin­ue to show unwa­ver­ing sup­port to the brave peo­ple of Belarus repressed for exer­cis­ing their vital human rights and jour­nal­is­tic work and demand the imme­di­ate and uncon­di­tion­al release of all polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. 

    ARTICLE 19

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists

    Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists (CPJ)

    Euro­pean Cen­tre for Press and Media Free­dom (ECPMF)

    Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (EFJ)

    Human Rights House Foun­da­tion


    Inter­na­tion­al Press Insti­tute (IPI)

    Index on Cen­sor­ship

    Jus­tice for Jour­nal­ists Foun­da­tion 

    PEN Amer­i­ca

    PEN Inter­na­tion­al 


    Read more:

    The authorities are trying to destroy independent journalism in Belarus. Support the Solidarity Marathon!

    “I stay so that those who have been imprisoned or forced to leave have a place to return to”. Motivations of journalists who choose to stay in Belarus

    Belarusian media workers behind bars. Portraits


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