UN Expert Denounces 'Increasing Crackdown' On Belarus Rights Activists

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has expressed concerns over an “increasing crackdown” against activists in Belarus, following reports of “suspected reprisals” against two defenders who have collaborated with the UN Human Rights Office.

“The space for defenders to carry out their work in Belarus is becoming impossibly narrow,” Mary Lawlor said in a statement on March 19, saying that “raids on offices, arrests of human rights defenders, and the hampering of lawyers’ work have become common practice.”

“I’ve even received reports of some being criminalized in reprisal for their cooperation with the UN, and ill-treated in police custody,” she said, referring to Syarhey Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski from the Office of the Rights for People with Disabilities nongovernmental organization.

Drazdouski, the director of the Minsk-based NGO and a wheelchair user, was “forced to endure a painful seven-hour long interrogation,” while Hrableuski, a legal adviser, was “instructed to remove his clothes during questioning,” the UN expert said.

Belarus has witnessed daily protests since strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed he won the August 9 presidential election by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud.

More than 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted in the government’s crackdown.

Lawlor said that “many” human rights defenders in Belarus have recently been forced into nondisclosure agreements, which she said “de facto criminalise the sharing of information on human rights.”

In a call endorsed by four other UN special rapporteurs, Lawlor urged Belarusian authorities to lift “all restrictions” on civil society, saying: “When human rights defenders, media workers, and lawyers are silenced, alleged violations of rights go unchallenged and uninvestigated.”

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