Human rights defenders arrested for protest against death penalty

Four leading human rights defenders in Belarus were arrested on Tuesday afternoon following a demonstration against the death penalty. The protest was a response to the unexpected execution of two men on death row last week.

– It seems like the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka has let go of all inhibitions in the wake of the local elections one month from now. He seems to want to annoy the EU rather than trying to show that Belarus is democratizing. It is particularly serious when people who defend the rights of others are targeted, says Erik Esbjörnson, Programme Director for the former Soviet Union at Civil Rights Defenders.

Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovitj and Iryna Toustsik held a press conference where they condemned last week´s execution of  Andrej Zjuk and Vasil Juzeptjuk, who had been sentenced to death in the summer of 2009. The execution was carried out despite a request from the UN Ruman Rights Committee to postpone it until the committee had investigated their cases.

– The issue of death penalty is much politicized in Belarus. The authorities feel that they are exposed to pressure from international institutions like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for example when the PACE connects the removal of the death penalty with the possibility of returning observatory status to Belarus in the European Council, says Tatsiana Reviaka, board member of the human rights organisation Viasna.

After the press conference the activists put on white t-shirts with red ”blood stains” and demonstrated in front of the President Administration. They held up a sign that said “No to the death penalty!” and very soon they were arrested together with the journalist Siarhei Sys from Viasna, who was taking pictures of the activity. Sys was released while the other three were taken to custody accused breaking the rules of public gatherings. They will probably be put on trial on Wednesday.

– The reaction of the authorities was so strong because the protest was held in front of the President Administration building and only the President can pardon people who have been sentenced to death. They also looked quite provocative with the bloodstained shirts. Besides, in principal there is no freedom of expression in our country, says Tatsiana Reviaka.

Categories: News.
Tags: Ales Bialiatski, Death penalty, EU, PACE, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Viasna.
Regions: Belarus.