On Friday, Belarusian human rights defenders issued a joint statement on the back of the arrest of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, the representatives of the Office of the Rights of People with Disabilities.
“Persecuting human rights defenders for their lawful activities, which includes provision of legal advice and ensuring civil society organisations’ access to necessary resources, is absolutely unacceptable. Therefore, we consider the persecution of Aleh Hrableuski and Syarhei Drazdouski to be politically motivated and aimed at ending their public and peaceful activities that seek to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We consider Hrableuski and Drazdouski to be prisoners of conscience under Art. 3.1(b) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners,” the statement reads.
11 Belarusian human rights organisations urge the Belarusian authorities to release Aleh Hrableuski and Syarhei Drazdouski. As of 5 February, 227 persons have been recognised as political prisoners in Belarus.
On February 3, the officers of the Belarusian Investigative Committee raided the Minsk-based Office of the Rights of People with Disabilities as part of the criminal case initiated against Syarhei Drazdouski, the founder and director of the organisation, as well as its legal counsellor Aleh Hrableuski. Drazdouski, who is a wheelchair user, was placed under house arrest. Hrableuski was detained for 72 hours, he is being held in the notorious detention centre on Akrestsin Street. As their lawyers signed a nondisclosure agreement, there is no detailed information of the case, human rights centre Viasna reports.
A day before, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski spent seven hours in the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee. The two men had to hold out a long and unpleasant interrogation. Earlier, the Office found defense lawyers for several persons who had to appear before court as part of the case on ‘participating in mass riots’, for which its team is now being faulted by the authorities. According to Syarhei, the officers threatened him with imprisonment, openly calling him ‘criminal’ and ‘swindler’.
“They stripped me naked, conducted a body search, checked everything they could. They ordered me to remain undressed, sit on a chair and look only at the corner of the table,” Hrableuski wrote on the back of Tuesday’s questioning.
It was not the first raid on the office; on January 21, law enforcers also made an unexpected visit. Then the Department of Financial Investigations said they were carrying out a check on the office staff over allegedly illegal receiving funds in the form of charitable donations and foreign aid.