The human rights situation has considerably worsened in Belarus in 2017 compared with the previous period of the so-called “soft practices”, which began in August 2015 and ended with the start of the ‘non-parasite’ mass rallies, “Viasna” human rights center annual report states.
According to human rights defenders, the wave of protests that swept across many cities of the country and was aimed against the application of Decree #3 was seen by the authorities as a serious threat to the political situation in the country, which led to the repression against protesters, activists and opposition leaders, independent journalists and human rights defenders.
In total, more than 900 people were subjected to some forms of repression (including in Minsk on Freedom Day, March 25) in March 2017. In 2017, there were more than 600 cases of citizens being drawn to administrative responsibility in connection with their implementation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. In more than 250 cases, judges subjected citizens to arrest.
In 2017 the Belarusian authorities also actively practiced politically motivated prosecutions. According to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, this kind of repression was used against 40 people. Thirty-five of them were arrested on 21-24 March 2017 and detained in prison on charges of “Preparation of mass riots”.
Human rights activists also point out that the criminal case against the activists of the independent trade union REP Fedynich and Ihar Komlik over ‘evasion from payment of tax, fees in especially large sizes’ is still ongoing.
In 2017, human rights activists recorded numerous cases of harassment of independent media journalists in their exercise of professional activities.
Belsat journalists were most affected — the amount of fines imposed on our colleagues exceeded 85.
However, the “Viasna” experts noted that by the end of 2017, almost all the defendants of criminal cases were released with the majority of criminal cases stopped, which suggests that foreign policy and geopolitical factors continue to affect the internal political situation in the country, including the human rights situation. Despite the deterioration of the overall situation in the country in the spring, the authorities continued its efforts to foster the dialogue and normalize relations with the West.
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka who was recognized by the international human rights organization Amnesty International as prisoner of conscience remain in prison.
Regarding the issue of the death penalty, despite the continued dialogue with the EU and the PACE, as well as calls for a moratorium, Belarus continued to apply this form of punishment in 2017, when three new death sentences were passed and one person was executed.
Human rights activists added that the Belarusian authorities have not implemented the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR on the electoral law changes.