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  • Joint statement in the run-up to the verdict in the Viasna case

    Paris-Geneva, March 2, 2023 – Tomorrow, the Leninsky District Court in Minsk is expected to hand down its verdict in the case of Viasna leaders Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic and Uladzimir Labkovich. On the eve of the verdict, the signatory organisations reiterate their calls to release the human rights defenders and drop all charges against them.

    On March 3, 2023, the Lenin­sky Dis­trict Court in Min­sk will rule on the polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed case against the head of Vias­na and Nobel Peace Prize lau­re­ate Ales Biali­ats­ki, his deputy and FIDH Vice-Pres­i­dent Valiantsin Ste­fanovic, and Viasna’s lawyer Uladz­imir Labkovich. After over a month of unfair tri­al and more than a year and a half of arbi­trary deten­tion, hope for jus­tice is slim.

    On Feb­ru­ary 9, 2023, Pros­e­cu­tor Ali­ak­san­dr Karol request­ed the court to sen­tence Ales Biali­ats­ki to 12 years’ impris­on­ment, Valiantsin Ste­fanovic to 11 years and Uladz­imir Labkovich to 9 years. Zmitser Salauy­ou, anoth­er Viasna’s mem­ber and defen­dant in this case, who is tried in absen­tia, faces 10 years’ impris­on­ment. The pros­e­cu­tor fur­ther demand­ed a fine of 185,000 Belaru­sian rubles (approx­i­mate­ly 68,000 Euros) to be imposed on each of the defen­dants.

    Lawless authorities have played a parody of justice against human rights defenders

    “The posi­tion of the Pros­e­cu­tor’s Office in the case of our friends and col­leagues is the epit­o­me of law­less­ness by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties. Dra­con­ian prison terms and fines, even by the abysmal stan­dards of the pro­found­ly com­pro­mised Belaru­sian judi­cia­ry, is an ordeal for the defen­dants and their fam­i­lies” said Pavel Sapel­ka, act­ing mem­ber of the Vias­na board. “These shame­ful repres­sive prac­tices against human rights defend­ers require deci­sive actions by key inter­na­tion­al actors” he added.

    Biali­ats­ki, Ste­fanovic and Labkovich have been arbi­trar­i­ly detained since July 14, 2021, as part of a broad­er crack­down on Belaru­sian civ­il soci­ety fol­low­ing the high­ly con­test­ed August 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. They were ini­tial­ly detained and held for 14 months on bogus charges of “tax eva­sion” (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code), but they are now on tri­al on trumped-up charges of “smug­gling” (Arti­cle 228.4 of the same Code) and “financ­ing of group actions gross­ly vio­lat­ing pub­lic order” (Arti­cle 342.2 of the same Code). These new charges were only filed against them in Sep­tem­ber 2022, leav­ing lit­tle time for the defen­dants and their lawyers to pre­pare a new defence strat­e­gy.

    Over 10 years in jail are expected in retribution for rightful human right work by the defendants

    Biali­ats­ki, Ste­fanovic and Labkovich are pros­e­cut­ed in reprisal for car­ry­ing out legit­i­mate human rights work. Pros­e­cu­tion deemed ille­gal such activ­i­ties as: assist­ing arbi­trar­i­ly detained par­tic­i­pants in peace­ful protests, pay­ing lawyers’ fees, organ­is­ing inde­pen­dent elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing, and con­tin­u­ing Viasna’s activ­i­ties after its for­mal liq­ui­da­tion.

    The tri­al of Biali­ats­ki, Ste­fanovic and Labkovich, as well as the pre­ced­ing inves­ti­ga­tion peri­od, were marred with mul­ti­ple vio­la­tions of human rights and fair tri­al stan­dards: in the court­room, the three defen­dants were hand­cuffed and held in a cage; the case mate­ri­als and the hear­ings were in Russ­ian, while the first lan­guage of the defen­dants in which they com­mu­ni­cate is Belaru­sian; the defen­dants were not giv­en suf­fi­cient time to famil­iarise them­selves with all the case file; and no inde­pen­dent media or inde­pen­dent observers were allowed into the court­room, to name just a few.

    The sig­na­to­ry organ­i­sa­tions strong­ly con­demn once again the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of Ales Biali­ats­ki, Valiantsin Ste­fanovic and Uladz­imir Labkovich and reit­er­ate their call to the Belaru­sian author­i­ties to release them imme­di­ate­ly and uncon­di­tion­al­ly, to drop all charges against them, and to end the judi­cial harass­ment against all human rights defend­ers in the coun­try. 


    1. ACAT Suisse

    2. Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al

    3. ARTICLE 19

    4. The Barys Zvozskau Belaru­sian Human Rights House

    5. Cam­pax

    6. Civ­il Rights Defend­ers

    7. Euro­pean Plat­form for Demo­c­ra­t­ic Elec­tions (EPDE)

    8. FIDH (Inter­na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion for Human Rights), with­in the frame­work of the Obser­va­to­ry for the Pro­tec­tion of Human Rights Defend­ers

    9. Free­dom House

    10. Front Line Defend­ers

    11. Helsin­ki Foun­da­tion for Human Rights

    12. Human Rights House Foun­da­tion

    13. Human Rights Watch

    14. The Inter­na­tion­al Bar Association’s Human Rights Insti­tute (IBAHRI)

    15. Libere­co — Part­ner­ship for Human Rights

    16. Nether­lands Helsin­ki Com­mit­tee

    17. Nor­we­gian Helsin­ki Com­mit­tee

    18. Öst­grup­pen — Swedish ini­tia­tive for Democ­ra­cies and human rights

    19. Right Liveli­hood

    20. World Organ­i­sa­tion Against Tor­ture (OMCT), with­in the frame­work of the Obser­va­to­ry for the Pro­tec­tion of Human Rights Defend­ers

    21. Peo­ple in Need

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