Several activists released but human rights situation remains worrisome
On 29th June 2017, several representatives of the human rights community in Belarus released a statement on the human rights situation in the country prior to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session and a new meeting of the EU-Belarus Dialogue on Human Rights. While noting some positive trends after last year's election, civil society representatives expressed concern over the excessive force used against protesters in March, stating that:
"We regretfully note a sharp deterioration in the human rights situation in the country starting from March 2017; the Government has resumed the policy of widespread repressive practices: arbitrary detentions and arrests of participants in peaceful assemblies and human rights defenders, interfering with the work of journalists, politically motivated criminal prosecution, and expulsion of students from universities for politically motivated reasons. During the spring of 2017, more than a thousand people in the country were subjected to repression, and over 100 of them were arrested".
While the 26th annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was taking place, a parallel OSCE Civil Society Forum organised by human rights groups and the Civic Solidarity Platform was held on 4th July in Minsk. The Civic Solidarity Platform reported more than 100 civil society representatives at the event. In addition, Miklos Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, attended the event on his first official visit to the country.
In its June report, the Human Rights Center Viasna noted that the number of arbitrary detentions has decreased in Belarus and attributed the decline in arrests to the fewer number of protests taking place since the widespread crackdown on election-related protests in March.
To date, rioting charges against all activists of the Young Front movement have been dropped. Also, according to Viasna, on 17th June 2017 activists from the European Belarus campaign, Andrei Sharenda and Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, had their criminal charges revoked for displaying a banner with an inscription, which had allegedly insulted the president.
On 8th July 2017, the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus, Russia and Azerbaijan. In regards to Belarus, the resolution in particular condemned "the restrictions placed on the freedom of assembly, including a near de facto ban on picketing, demonstrations and meetings by civil society and opposition groups in Belarus".
On 14th June 2017, the UN Human Rights Council held an event with Miklos Haraszti – UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. During the event, participants discussed the ongoing violations of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The majority of participants urged the government of Belarus to abolish the death penalty and to end its repression of peaceful protesters.
On 3rd July - Independence Day - Radio Free Europe reported that almost 150 people protested in Minsk against the government and its decision to hold military exercises with Russia in September 2017 on the territory of Belarus. Opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich organised the protest. There were no reports of any incidents or crackdown on that day; however, Statkevich was later sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention for his participation in the 3rd July anti-government protest.
Russian opposition activist Vladimir Yegorov was accused of inciting extremism in October 2016 after criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2016 in online posts. Yegorov was residing in Belarus and has now been extradited to Russia to face trial. According to his lawyer, Yegorov is currently in a detention centre in his native city of Toropets in the western Russian region of Tver.
As the leader of a branch of the Russian opposition party Yabloko in Toropets, Yegorov had previously asked for political asylum in Ukraine, but was denied. Following which, the activist moved to Belarus.