In the run-up of the opening of the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk human rights organization Amnesty International starts a new campaign. Its aim is to urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release three long-term political prisoners and draw the world’s attention to the repressive Belarusian law.
A ‘virtual ice hockey stadium’ invites people to show solidarity by booking tickets to sit alongside Belarusian prisoners of conscience Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Statkevich and Eduard Lobau and ‘watch’ human rights in Belarus. The signatures will be collected and sent to President Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
The campaign highlights the Belarusian authorities’ notorious record for punishing those who speak out about human rights. The country’s Law on Mass Events, introduced in 1997, includes provisions which make it practically impossible to hold any sort of public gathering without the express permission of the authorities, and this severely restricts the right to freedom of assembly, or even activism by single individuals, human rights defenders say.
The Belarusian Criminal Code criminalizes the activities of unregistered non-governmental organizations; most face serious hurdles in registering and people then face imprisonment for up to two years for participating in the activities of unregistered organizations, Amnesty International stresses.
“Belarus won’t win any fans until it starts to play by the rules. Releasing prisoners of conscience and lifting repressive laws would be a good place to begin,” John Dalhuisen, Europe Director at Amnesty International, said.
Watch the human rights match in Belarus and take action!, the watchdog calls.
Mikalai Statkevich is the last 2010 presidential candidate to be in prison. The sentence given to Mr Statkevich in 2011 was one of the toughest: six years of imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony. The reason might be explained by the fact that in his election speech Mikalai Statkevich addressed to the current president demanding “to give back all that you have stolen”. The authorities are trying to embitter Statkevich’s life even in prison putting him to a disciplinary cell or making him share a ward with an AIDS sufferer. However, the former presidential candidate keeps mantaining his innocence and refuses to ask President Lukashenka for pardon.
In November, 2011 Ales Bialiatski, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, was sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a medium security penal colony and seizure of property for alleged tax evasion. The fact of his holding bank accounts in Poland and Lithuania gave the grounds for criminal prosecution. The cash standing to the credit of accounts was used for human rights defence activity: the centre financially supported the people affected by Lukashenka’s regime. In court Bialiatski stated that he had no other possibility of getting financial aid from foreign backers.
Eduard Lobau and Zmitser Dashkevich were attacked by a group of unknown men a day before the 2010 presidential elections. After short scuffling police showed up and arrested Dashkievich and Lobau, accusing them of beating two inhabitants of Minsk. Eduard Lobau was sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment for ‘especially malicious hooliganism’. At the current moment he is kept in penal colony №22 in Ivatsevichi.