Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, expresses serious concerns over the sentencing of Viasna human rights defenders, Maria Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk by the Minsk City Court this afternoon. Maria and Andrey were both sentenced to 15 years and 6 years respectively following a trial marked by irregularities.
Maria and Andrey were detained on 17 September 2020 and 2 October 2020 respectively. Maria,the Coordinator of the Volunteer Service of Viasna, has been charged with “organising mass riots,” “inciting social hostility” against the government and “involvement in a criminal organisation.” Andrew, a volunteer at Viasna, was charged with “participating in mass riots,” and ‘involvement in a criminal organisation.”
We call on the authorities in Belarus to unconditionally release Maria Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk as they and other human rights defenders and activists are being persecuted for their peaceful human rights activities. After two years of heightened attacks on civil society and the political opposition, President Alexander Lukashenko should restore respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.
The judicial persecution of Maria Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk is part of an intense crackdown on civil society and fundamental freedoms that followed protests against disputed elections in August 2020. The authorities responded to the protests with excessive force, arresting more than 8712 people between August 2020 and the end of 2021. Many of those arrested have been subjected to ill treatment and held under inhuman conditions.
Journalists have also been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention and charged for reporting on the protests and the actions of the state. The authorities have further stripped several independent media outlets of their licences and the homes, closed down websites and raided the homes and offices of journalists. For example, media outlet TUT.by was blocked online and later banned after the authorities accused its staff of inciting hatred.
More than 765 civil society organisations have been liquidated or closed and the authorities continue to target human rights lawyers for speaking out against the restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and expression imposed by the state and for representing human rights defenders and members of the political opposition. Many of the organisations were falsely accused by the authorities of sharing extremist content.
We call on Belarus to release Maria Rabkova and Andrey Chapiuk and other human rights and drop all charges against them.
CIVICUS space is rated as "Closed" in Belarus by the CIVICUS Monitor.