Vyasna reports deterioration in human rights situation in 2017

The human rights situation in Belarus “considerably” deteriorated in 2017, according to an analytical review by the Vyasna Human Rights Center.

“A wave of protests sweeping across many cities in the country against the implementation of Decree No. 3 was perceived by the authorities as a serious threat causing the destabilization of the internal political situation in the country, which led to repressions against protest participants, activists and opposition leaders, independent journalists and human rights defenders,” the review says.

More than 900 people were subjected to repression in March 2017, including participants in the "Dzen Voli" (Freedom Day) demonstration staged in Minsk on March 25.

More than 600 individuals were reportedly charged under Belarus’ Civil Offenses Code throughout 2017 for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and expression, and over 250 of them were subsequently sentenced to jail terms.

According to Vyasna, the authorities often resorted to politically motivated persecution last year.

In particular, as many as 40 individuals were arrested on politically motivated charges, including 35 individuals who were arrested between March 21 and March 24 over the White Legion case, also known as the riot case. Sixteen of the people were later charged with attempting to form an illegal armed unit.

Vyasna points out that the tax evasion case against Henadz Fyadynich, chairman of the Belarusian Union of Electronic Industry Workers, and Ihar Komlik, chief accountant of the union, has not been dropped yet. The case was opened in August 2017.

“There were many instances of persecution of independent journalists in connection with the performance of their professional duties,” the review says. “According to BAJ [Belarusian Association of Journalists], 69 journalists were sentenced to a fine throughout the year for cooperating with foreign media outlets.”

Vyasna notes the release of almost all political prisoners last year and the fact that most of the politically motivated cases were dropped.

“It testifies to the fact that external political and geopolitical factors continued to have a considerable influence on the internal political situation in the country, including on the human rights situation,” the report says. “Despite the deterioration of the overall situation in the country during the spring events, the authorities continued to make efforts to maintain a dialogue and normalize relations with Western countries such as EU member countries and the United States.”

At the same time two political prisoners remain behind bars. They are human rights defender Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and opposition activist Dzmitry Paliyenka.

Despite the calls from the EU and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for a moratorium on the death penalty, Belarus continued to apply this form of punishment last year. Three more people were sentenced to death, while one inmate was executed.

“There were no systemic changes in the field of civil and political rights at the legislative level throughout 2017, while the widely advertised amendments to the Mass Events Law did not change the restrictive nature of the law or its application,” the review says. “In addition, the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations on changes to electoral laws were not implemented.”