Human rights defenders, including some of the detained and subsequently released in Minsk, provide details on today’s mass detentions in Belarus.
Fifty seven activists, journalists and human rights defenders were detained at the office of the human rights organization “Viasna” in Minsk. It happened right before the start of the peaceful rally on the occasion of the Freedom Day (Dzen Voli) they were supposed to monitor. The only purpose of this was not to let them do so. It was reported by Svitlana Valko, representative of the International Partnership for Human Rights and of the Truth Hounds, during a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “OMON unit (riot police) dressed in full body armor broke into the human rights center Viasna and ordered all to lie face down on the ground. They searched and detained everyone without presenting charges. Later they sent all the 57 persons to Pervomaisky district level police station (ROVD). As of now all the detained have been released. The human rights defenders that were getting ready to monitor the peaceful rally and law enforcement actions in particular, were held detained through all of the march. They were let go when it became clear that they would not make it to the march,” the human rights defender said.
Among the detained there were international observers from different countries. All the human rights defenders had their IDs with them and were registered as monitors. They had also submitted the required documents to the police. “We were not allowed to use cell phones and tell our colleagues or relatives what was going on with us. They gave us no explanation and did not bring forward any charges. They did allow us to take the medicine and drink water. They were then holding us in a big gym. We were about 70 people altogether, most people were simply detained on the street,” said one of the detained Yevhenia Andriyuk, deputy head of CrimeaSOS NGO, member of the monitoring mission of the International Partnership for Human Rights. During the rally both its participants and regular passers-by were being detained.
“Police vehicles for transportation of the detained (avtozak) are driving all across the city. They simply catch the people who are in the downtown. Police stands at all the central crossings. The roads are blocked. People are detained en mass,” added Maria Kvitsinska, one of the detained, member of the monitoring mission of the International Partnership for Human Rights.
According to Oleksandra Delemenchuk, representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and of the Civic Solidarity Platform, coalition of human rights NGOs, 250 persons were put on administrative arrest that lasts over 10 days. Criminal charges were brought against 26 persons. “People need to understand that these are not just 10 days in prison. It also means torture and other kinds of ill-treatment by police,” emphasized Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights.
International human rights defenders think that it was too early for the EU to soften sanctions against Belarus. They call to reinforce them and keep them as long as the country’s authorities get to such illegal practices. “It was very much premature that the EU and its member states lifted sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. International community needs to reconsider the sanctions regime once more, as what is going on is unacceptable. The only way to stop this is a very strong unconditional reaction from outside. I call on the European media to provide comprehensive coverage of what is going on in the country. Unfortunately the local press has very limited possibilities to do so,” said Simon Papuashvili, project Coordinator at the International Partnership for Human Rights. “It is clearly an attempt to intimidate, prevent and silence those who are monitoring the protests and demonstrations in Belarus. It’s a key marker for the behavior of repressive governments when they go after independent journalists and human rights defenders to try and close down reporting of what they’re doing. This should have consequences in terms of the political decisions of the European Union and other international partners,” added Andrew Anderson, Executive Director at the Front Line Defenders.
Tomorrow, on March 26 at 18.00 a rally in support of the people of Belarus will be held near the Belarus Embassy in Ukraine.