Two months after mass protests, activists remain in custody and journalists harrassed

Peaceful Assembly

Two months after the March 2017 mass protests, many protesters remain under arrest, with most being held in the custody of the secret service. Domestic and international civil society organisations have spoken out, documenting and denouncing the cases of torture, abuse and other human rights violations against imprisoned individuals. 

According to the Human Rights Center Viasna, several citizens were preemptively arrested before the protests even began, while others were intimidated and manipulated such that they were too afraid to participate. At least 16 people have thus far been charged with allegedly threatening national security by attempting to organise armed groups and mass riots. Viasna also reported that on 24th May, the authorities extended the pretrial detention period for those charged with "preparing mass riots". Also, in early May the International Partnership for Human Rights released a preliminary report on the authorities' harsh crackdown and the human rights violations committed against protesters.

Given the government's crackdown on freedom of peaceful assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Miklós Haraszti expressed concern that the government of Belarus has returned to “the policy of large-scale repression against citizens who exercise or defend their rights”. 

Expression

Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, an activist arrested during the March protests, has been charged with defamation. Shernada-Panasiuk, also a mother of two young children, was initially given status as a witness, but was later accused of defamation for displaying a banner which read - "Lukashenka, you are a freak! Stop plundering our people!" in February 2017. According to the activist, the case against her is politically motivated, the charges fabricated and the proceedings a charade. If convicted, she faces up to two years in prison for insulting the president. 

Numerous cases of intimidation and harassment of journalists were also documented during and after the protests. And two months later, the pressure on journalists and activists has increased. For example, Larysa Schiryakova has been threatened with losing custody of her 10-year-old in retaliation for her critical reporting of government's response to the protests. In response to the harassment against her, Amnesty USA launched an urgent action petitioning the authorities to end their persecution and threats.

Several international organisations have addressed official letters requesting that the authorities in Belarus stop their abuse of the press. The Norwegian Union of Journalists, for example, sent the Minister of Foreign Affairs a letter, demanding an end to the harassment and a requesting that other organisations demonstrate solidarity with journalists and the press in Belarus:

"Recently, journalists in Belarus have found themselves under increased harassment. [We] encourage other journalist organizations to declare their support for our Belarusian colleagues and demand that the harassment stops".

Similarly, the National Union Journalists of Ireland expressed concern over the government's actions toward journalists and conveyed their solidarity with the Belarus Association of Journalists, in particular.