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Belarus: UN expert urges Government to release Ales Bialiatski and stop persecution of rights defenders

GENEVA (2 August 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Republic of Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, urged the Belarusian Government to “immediately and unconditionally” release and rehabilitate human rights defender Ales Bialiatski. “Mr Bialiatski’s detention is a symbol of the repression against human rights defenders,” he said.

Two years ago, on 4 August 2011, Mr Bialiatski, head of the Human Rights Center Viasna, was detained in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on charges of tax evasion. He was later sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment with the confiscation of all his property, including assets registered to other persons. This judgment was upheld on appeal in 2012.

“Mr. Bialiatski is an internationally respected human rights defender; his engagement for human rights is well-known and broadly applauded,” the UN independent expert noted. In addition to his work with Viasna, he has been active is setting up the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, Lithuania, and became the Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights. Viasna continues to defend the rights of ordinary citizens just as those of imprisoned public critics of the Government.

“As many other human rights defenders in Belarus, Mr. Bialiatski could not legally and without hindrance work, because of the refusal by Belarusian authorities to register his NGO,” the Special Rapporteur said, urging the Government to acknowledge human rights organisations in the country, and start cooperating with them to establish an independent national human rights institution as pledged in the nation’s commitments to the UN.

The independent expert recalled the UN Human Rights Committee’s view that the dissolution of Viasna was in violation of the freedom of association, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Also, he noted that the UN Human Rights Council unanimously stated that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto.

“The detention of Mr Bialiatski is clearly a consequence of him continuing his not only legitimate but also legal work under international human rights law,” Mr. Haraszti underlined. “The fundraising undertaken by Mr. Bialiatski for the purposes of allowing the very existence of Viasna, and continuation of its activities was in conformity with international human rights law,” he stressed. The expert echoed the position of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that determined the detention of Mr. Bialiatiski as arbitrary.

“Two years after the arrest of Mr. Bialiatski, on a day that will be marked by many throughout the world, I join others in offering my heartfelt support to Belarusian civil society and its remarkable work and I call upon the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and rehabilitate Mr. Bialiatski and those incarcerated in violation of their human rights,” said Mr. Haraszti, as he already recommended in his first report* to the UN Human Rights Council, in June 2013, following the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ similar call in her 2011 report on Belarus.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur expressed deep concern over the fact that, in June 2012, the prison authorities labelled Mr. Bialiatski a repeat violator of the regulations of his detention. On October that year, a coalition of independent human rights NGOs warned about the “significant deterioration” of his detention conditions.

“I call upon the government of Belarus to provide Mr. Bialiatski, pending his release, access to all medical support he needs and secure that the prison conditions do not impact his health and to ensure that Ales Bialiatski has full rights to receive visits and private correspondence,” the UN independent expert urged.

Earlier this year, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously called upon all States to ensure that the promotion and the protection of human rights are not criminalized, and that human rights defenders are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work, whether they operate individually or in association with others, while emphasizing that everyone shall respect the human rights of others.

“I urge the Belarusian authorities to protect human rights defenders and journalists from harassment, intimidation and violence as a result of their activities, and conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations, prosecution and punishment of any such acts,” said Mr. Haraszti, reiterating the recommendation made in his report, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The United Nations Human Rights Council established the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Republic of Belarus in March 2012 (resolution 20/13), for an initial period of one year. As a Special Rapporteur, Miklós Haraszti (Hungary) is independent of any government or organisation, and serves in his individual capacity. In the 1970s, Mr. Haraszti was a founder of Hungary’s human rights and free press movement, and in the 1990s he was a Member of the Hungarian Parliament. From 2004 to 2010, he served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Since 2010, he has been a professor at several universities teaching media democratisation.

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session23/A-HRC-23-52_en.pdf

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BYIndex.aspx

For more information and media inquiries, please contact Fiona Frazer (+41 22 928 9336 / ffrazer@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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