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Press briefing notes on Belarus

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Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Liz Throssell   
Location: Geneva 

Date: 21 August 2020

Subject:  Belarus

The UN Human Rights Office is continuing to follow developments in Belarus which has seen protests and strikes since the presidential election on 9 August. 

We note that most of the several thousand people reported to have been detained in connection with the protests have now been released. But we remain seriously concerned that over 100 people are reportedly still detained, including approximately 60 individuals who are accused of criminal acts, which could carry heavy prison sentences, in connection with their participation in largely peaceful demonstrations. There were still reports of people being detained yesterday. 

We call on the authorities in Belarus to immediately release all those who have been unlawfully or arbitrarily detained and to stop detaining people for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of peaceful assembly.

We are particularly worried that the fate and whereabouts of at least eight people remain unknown. All disappeared following the start of the protests on 9 August.

Given the practice of mass detentions that took place, it has been impossible to obtain complete information regarding all detainees. Under relevant international standards, Belarus has a duty to ensure that comprehensive and accurate records are kept about all individuals in detention and that their family members and legal counsel are promptly informed about where they are being held.

Allegations continue to emerge of large-scale torture and ill-treatment of people including of journalists and particularly alarmingly of children, during arrests and in detention. We are therefore disturbed that reportedly no action has to date been taken to investigate these reports, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

We remind the Belarus authorities of the absolute prohibition on torture, and reiterate the call made last week by the High Commissioner for prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations. These include the deaths of four people as a result of injuries they sustained during the protests. Victims have the right to redress.

As the situation in Belarus continues to evolve, the government should take steps to facilitate and not repress the right to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.

We also encourage the Belarussian authorities to reconsider their stance of not engaging with the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Having a constructive engagement with the Special Rapporteur would be a real opportunity for Belarus to show its willingness to reflect on and respond to human rights issues, especially in a time of crisis.

We also recognise the important role played by non-governmental organisations in Belarus for continuing to carry out essential human rights work, including by documenting, in challenging circumstances, allegations of human rights violations both prior to, during and after the election. Their work should be facilitated and supported.  

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact: orLiz Throssell- + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org or Jeremy Laurence - + 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org  or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org
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