AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW – MARY LAWLOR,
UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Human Rights Defenders are being targeted in an escalating wave of raids as the situation in Belarus spirals, said UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Mary Lawlor:
I have been in daily contact with Human Rights Defenders in Belarus for some time, and have been hearing firsthand testimony from local HRDs telling me of searches, attacks and arrests. In the past 24 hours, a fresh offensive against Human Rights Defenders has begun. I have, and continue to, raise specific cases with the Government of Belarus, but the situation is escalating fast.
From what I’m hearing from local contacts since yesterday morning, at least 15 HRDs across Belarus and across different organizations have been targeted through home searches, detentions and interrogations. Some HRDs are still uncontactable. I’ve heard of raids in at least 16 NGO offices, and that the authorities are sometimes smashing down doors to enter.
In many cases, lawyers are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements about their clients. This effectively criminalises the sharing of information on human rights violations. Sometimes not even the HRDs’ families know what condition they’re in or what they’re charged with, until they appear in court. And I’ve heard that dozens of lawyers are being targeted by the Government and disbarred as a tactic to neutralise the work of Human Rights Defenders.
There have been reports for some time of the ill-treatment of HRDs in custody. Sergei Drozdovsky and Oleg Grablevsky, from the Office of the Rights for People with Disabilities were detained and interrogated for their cooperation with the UN. Sergei, a wheelchair user, was ill-treated while in police custody.
Some HRDs who arrested before this week are in danger of being sentenced to long jail terms, including Maria Rabkova, who is facing charges that carry up to 12 years in prison.
Embassies in Minsk should offer help to HRDs, and States should speak out publicly and clearly in reminding the Belarussian authorities about their responsibilities to protect, and not target, those peacefully defending the rights of others.