Belarus must release all detainees held on political grounds and protect their rights: UN experts
30 May 2023
GENEVA (30 May 2023) – UN experts today called on Belarusian authorities to immediately release all prisoners in the country detained on spurious charges for exercising their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression.
“The practice of incommunicado detention of members of the political opposition and prominent figures sentenced to lengthy prison terms for voicing dissent increased in 2023,” the experts said.
The Viasna Human Rights Centre reported that 1,511 people have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2020. It has also documented an average of 17 arbitrary arrests and detentions a day.
While Belarusian prisons are notorious for substandard conditions, civil society organisations continue to document the systematic discriminatory placement of persons detained on politically motivated grounds in even harsher conditions than the general prison population.
“This arbitrary practice appears to have a systemic character,” the experts said.
The harsh conditions of detention have reportedly had a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the detainees, including Mr Sergey Tihanovski, Ms Maria Kalesnikava, Mr Viktar Barbaryka and Mr Maksim Znak, whose cases were documented* by the experts. The prisoners were reportedly denied access to timely and appropriate medical examinations and treatment, adequate legal representation and prevented from contacting their families.
“Incommunicado detention – with a risk of enforced disappearance – is indicative of a strategy to punish political opponents and hide evidence of their ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement and prison authorities,” the experts said.
They deplored the lack of independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these allegations of inhuman treatment and other human rights violations, as well as the failure to provide effective remedies to detainees and their families.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.