FCDO – UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (formerly FCO) (Author)
The human rights situation in Belarus changed little between April and June. There is continued systematic suppression of freedom of expression and assembly.
Protesters are routinely detained or arrested for even the mildest form of dissent, e.g. flying the old Belarusian flag or wearing the Ukrainian national colours. The independent media continues to be harassed and anyone advertising in independent newspapers/websites is advised to stop doing so.
The British Embassy in Minsk flew a rainbow flag on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in solidarity with the LGBT community, who have suffered increased harassment from the regime over the last year.
Prior to the Ice Hockey World Championships in Minsk (9-25 May), the Belarusian government rounded up and detained around 40 dissidents and political activists in a campaign of preventative arrests. The government imposed sentences of up to 25 days to ensure that no protests took place during the championships. Detainees were charged for minor offences such as swearing in public or resisting arrest. Security services also rounded up drunks, prostitutes (around 350 according to press reports), and the homeless, and kept them in detention centres until the Championships had finished. These arrests attracted less attention than those of the activists, but came to light when dissidents were released and highlighted the scale of the round up.
During the Ice Hockey World Championships, the government denied a number of human rights activists and journalists entry to the country in order to muffle criticism of the country’s human rights record during the games themselves.
Former political prisoner and leading human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski, was released on 21 June with 19 months of his sentence to serve. Bialiatski was not obliged to request a pardon to commute his sentence. However, his civil and political rights have still not been fully reinstated. The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, welcomed his release and called for the release of the remaining political prisoners.
Another political prisoner, Mikolai Autukhovich, was released in April following the completion of his sentence. He has not been rehabilitated and is subject to a further 16 months of preventative surveillance.
Two death sentences were carried out in April, the first since 2012. As is standard practice in Belarus, neither those executed nor their families received advance notice of the executions and the bodies of those executed have not been returned to their families. One of those executed, Pavel Selyun, was due to have his case reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee. British officials in London and Minsk met representatives of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey our disappointment at their actions and again urged Belarus to introduce a moratorium on executions and work towards the abolition of the death penalty. Two prisoners remain on death row.
The UK strongly supported the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus in the June 2014 vote at the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur, Miklós Harazsti, plays a valuable role in ensuring the international community continues to monitor human rights in Belarus and in maintaining pressure on Belarus to implement real changes for the better.