Tag Archives: Belarus

Belarus: Trial against the leaders of Viasna begins on January 5


Nobel prize winner Ales Bialiatski, FIDH Vice-President Valiantsin Stefanovic and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, will be tried on January 5, 2023. The three face fake charges of smuggling and financing of group actions grossly violating public order. The Observatory demands their release and calls for solidarity actions in support of the imprisoned human rights defenders in Belarus.

On January 5, 2023, Viasna Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize 2022 laureate Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovic, and Viasna’s lawyer and coordinator of the “Free Elections Campaign” Uladzimir Labkovich will face trial before the Lieninski District Court of Minsk, after more than 17 months of arbitrary detention. Another defendant in this case and Viasna member Zmister Salauyou has left Belarus and will be tried in absentia.

Messrs Bialiatski, Stefanovic and Labkovich were arrested on July 14, 2021, and held in torturous conditions ever since. They are accused under two criminal articles:

• “Smuggling; illegal movement of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union on a large scale by an organized group” (Article 228.4 of the Criminal Code of Belarus); and
• “Financing of group actions grossly violating the public order” (Article 342.2 of the same Code). They face from 7 to 12 years of imprisonment if convicted and sentenced.

The charges are politically motivated and refer to Viasna’s legitimate human rights activities, deemed “illegal” by the prosecution. The defendants are notably accused of helping victims of the Lukashenka regime’s repression, including those protesting the 2020 election fraud, by paying their legal fees, reimbursing fines and paying for meals in detention centers.

The current charges against the defendants were filed in October 2022, whilst since July 2021 the three were detained on the charge of “tax evasion” (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Belarus Criminal Code), which was later dropped. This charge was already used to target Ales Bialiatski in 2012, when he was sentenced to four and a half years of imprisonment. He was released in June 2014, after the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that his conviction was illegal and ordered his release.

The judicial proceedings against Bialiatski, Stefanovic and Labkovich are marred by numerous irregularities. The investigation period has been dragged out by the authorities, and has exceeded the legal limit established in Belarusian law and international standards. There are sufficient grounds to claim that this is due to a deliberate attempt to fabricate evidence. Their pre-trial detention has been continuously extended in closed doors hearings, even though the Belarusian law offers alternatives in the form of house arrest. It is believed that the authorities have kept them in inhumane detention conditions to force them to confess.

Their lawyers as well as the defendants themselves have been placed under a nondisclosure obligation. For 17 months, they have been systematically denied family visits, and medical care and access to their lawyers have been severely limited.

The reprisals against Viasna and its members are part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Belarus. In 2021 alone, the authorities shut down more than 275 human rights and other civil society organisations, leaving no legally operating independent NGO in the country. In December 2021, the authorities re-introduced criminal liability for working with unregistered or liquidated organisations. This led to a de facto criminalisation of human rights work in Belarus. Since 2020, five other members of Viasna were put behind bars, including Marfa RabkovaAndrei ChapyukLeanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa.









The Belarusian Helsinki Committee informed the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus about numerous cases of prosecution of lawyers in Belarus.

In particular, the UN special procedures were informed about the detention of Alexander Danilevich, who was arrested on May 20 and is still in detention.

It was revealed that he is charged pursuant art. 361 para. 3 of the Criminal Code (calls for restrictive measures (sanctions) or other actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus). He is at risk of being sentenced to imprisonment for a term of four to twelve years. We have a reason to believe, and that was indicated, that A. Danilevich is being prosecuted for publicly expressing his opinion. Alexander Danilevich, PhD in law, associate professor, distinguished sports lawyer, arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Lausanne, Switzerland), was a member of the disciplinary committee of Rugby Europe.

We further informed the Special Rapporteurs of the Andrei Mochalov’s case.

Lawyer Andrei Mochalov (A.Machalau) was dismissed from the Minsk Regional Bar Association on May 31, but he didn’t participate in the meeting of the Bar Council, so he found out about the decision only at the trial.

The cause of dismissal was his media report that his client, Olga Zolotar, has been tortured by GUBOPiK officers during the investigation in order to force her to incriminate herself. Mochalov was charged of using knowingly forged documents (art. 380 para. 1 of the Criminal Code) – lawyer’s certificate and warrant. According to the investigation, he had no right to present these documents in court, because he knew that he had already been dismissed from the Bar Association. On June 16, Andrei Mochalov was sentenced to two years’ of imprisonment with placement in an open institution.

The communication also contains information about the persecution of lawyer Vitaliy Braginets. On May 23, lawyer V. Bragints was detained and on the next day was sentenced to 15 days for disobeying the lawful request of a police officer (art. 24.3 of the Code of the Republic of Belarus on Administrative Offenses). On June 7, after 15 days, it became known that the lawyer was still not released, and his arrest was extended for another 15 days. Until now, he is in custody.







Belarus: A year after the arbitrary arrest of the president and vice president of the Human Rights Center “Viasna,” no justice is in sight


July 14, 2022 marks one year since the arbitrary arrest of three prominent human rights defenders from the Human Rights Center Viasna. On this day last year, Belarusian authorities arrested the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)’s Vice-president and Viasna’s board member Valiantsin Stefanovich, Viasna’s President Ales Bialiatski and lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich. Along with four other Viasna members, the three remain behind bars on trumped-up charges, in appalling conditions, systematically denied communication with their families and lawyers. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) deplores the continuing demolition of the Belarus civil society by Lukashenka’s regime, renews its calls for the immediate release of seven Viasna’s defenders, and demands justice for all those arbitrarily detained in the country.

Ales BialiatskiValiantsin Stefanovich and [lawyer] Uladzimir Labkovich were arrested by officers of the Financial Investigations Department of Belarus on July 14, 2021. Since that day, the three have been kept in custody on trumped-up charges of “tax evasion” (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Belarus Criminal Code). The investigation into their case has been ongoing for over a year, which is contrary to Belarusian law and international standards. They are kept in appalling conditions in a pretrial detention centre in Minsk, their family and lawyers are systematically denied access to them, and all post communications are harshly censored by authorities, with some letters not getting past the prison walls. There are sufficient grounds to claim that Belarusian authorities are dragging out the investigation and keeping human rights defenders in such inhumane conditions to fabricate evidence and coerce them into confessing themselves.

Four other members of Viasna remain behind bars, including the coordinator of volunteers Marfa Rabkova, the head of Viasna’s Mohilev branch [lawyer] Leanid Sudalenka, and volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrei Chapyuk. The situation of Marfa Rabkova is particularly concerning: the young woman is arbitrarily detained since September 17, 2020 and faces up to 12 years in prison.

The actual reason for the continuing detention of the seven activists appears to be the human rights activities carried out by Viasna, its strong stand against Lukashenka’s illegitimate regime and repression. Viasna has long been at the forefront of the Belarusian human rights movement being notably famous for maintaining a list of political prisoners in Belarus, which now counts 1244 persons. Viasna also provides legal and other assistance to victims of repression, carries out election campaign observations, advocates for democratic reforms and against death penalty. Ales Bialiatski, the Chairman of the organisation, has received numerous awards for his selfless service to a democratic society, including most recently the Right Livelihood Award 2020, he was also nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.





Joint oral statement to Human Rights Council on Belarus


On 28 June, Lawyers for Lawyers, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada delivered an oral statement on Belarus during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. The interactive dialogue took place during the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The statement reads as follows:

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Lawyers for Lawyers, and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada remain alarmed at the findings in the Special Rapporteur’s report, including the growing number of arbitrary arrests and detentions on politically motivated grounds.  

As of 22 June, 66 Belarusian lawyers have been persecuted since the 2020 elections, including through disbarment, detention, and prosecution. Recent examples include the detention of Vitaliy Braginets, Alexander Danilevich, and Anastasia Lazarenko. On 23 May, Maksim Znak was added to the Belarusian State Security Committee’s “list of terrorists”. This creates a chilling effect on other legal professionals, restricting human rights defenders’ and political opponents’ right to access independent, effective legal representation.

We also note with concern the further deterioration of the independence of the judiciary, used by the authorities “as repressive instruments to silence dissent”. This, together with ongoing attacks against lawyers, undermines justice and perpetuates a culture of impunity.

Finally, we condemn recent amendments to the Criminal Code that expand the application of the death penalty in Belarus.

We urge this Council to take all possible actions to ensure accountability for abuses and to prevent further deterioration of the situation, and to ensure the renewal the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.





Belarus: Criminal prosecution and limitation of freedom of rights lawyer Andrei Machalau



The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

Description of the situation

The Observatory has been informed about the criminal prosecution and limitation of freedom of Andrei Machalau, a human rights lawyer known for providing legal assistance to torture survivors, independent journalists, human rights defenders, and civil and political activists in Belarus.

On June 16, 2022, the Leninsky District Court in Minsk sentenced Andrei Machalau to two years of restriction of freedom with the transfer to an open-type penal institution for “using a false document” under Article 380, Part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Mr. Machalau will appeal this decision, and the correctional facility will be determined after the decision on the appeal. During the judicial proceedings, Mr. Machalau’s right to due process was violated. He was denied his right to legal assistance, as his lawyer Vitaliy Braginets was under administrative arrest, and the court refused to reschedule the process to enable participation Mr. Braginets’ participation or to let Machalau to choose a new lawyer. Andrei Machalau was represented by a lawyer appointed by the court, whom he did not know and did not have chance to communicate in advance.

Andrei Machalau has been accused of using an invalid lawyer’s certificate and authorisation to participate in trial as a lawyer while representing a client in court on June 17 and June 18, 2021. Andrei Machalau was deprived of his licence by the disciplinary commission and the council of the Minsk regional Bar Association on May 31, 2021, for “offenses incompatible with the title of a lawyer”. The notice of disbarment was sent to the Andrei Machalau’s old house address. Hence the human rights lawyer was not adequately informed about the decision. On June 18, 2021, Mr. Machalau learned about the decision while representing his client Olga Sinelava, who was prosecuted and subsequently sentenced to two years of restriction of freedom for political reasons, in the courtroom. Subsequently, an investigation for using an invalid document was opened against him.

Human rights lawyers in Belarus working on sensitive cases are subjected to judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention, administrative sanctions, criminal prosecution, and disciplinary sanctions, including disbarment, according to Lawyers for Lawyers and the American Bar Association Center for Human RightsAccording to Defenders.by, 60 lawyers have been disbarred in Belarus since 2020, and at least four lawyers are currently detained in trump-up charges. In this framework, the exclusion of Andrei Machalau from the Minsk regional Bar Association is based on politically motivated grounds, as it has become a common practice to persecute lawyers as a form of intimidation.





Belarusian Pensioner Sentenced To 42 Months In Prison For Criticizing Lukashenka


A 65-year-old political activist in Belarus has been handed a 42-month prison term on charges of discrediting the nation and slandering its authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as the government continues its heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.

Alena Hnauk was sentenced on June 17 by the Pruzhany district court in the western region of Brest, her relatives said.

Hnauk, a former lawyer, has been detained and charged with anti-government activities several times since nationwide protests erupted in August 2020 following a presidential vote that opposition leaders say was rigged in favor of Lukashenka.

The 67-year-old strongman has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Hnauk’s charges stem from her online posts criticizing a migrant crisis triggered by Lukashenka along the Belarusian border with Poland and Lithuania last year.

After his nation was hit with tough European sanctions for its crackdown on peaceful protesters, Lukashenka retaliated by forcing thousands of migrants — largely from the Middle East — to the EU border.



UK: How lawyers can help Ukraine


The Law Society has assisted the profession through the upheavals of the last few years by providing, on each occasion, resources for solicitors. It started with Brexit, moved on to the coronavirus pandemic, and now we are at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Each development has had multiple consequences for the profession. The repercussions from the invasion of Ukraine are several, and still working themselves out: the retreat of law firms from Russia, the storm over SLAPPs (resulting in last week’s Law Society response to the government’s call for evidence), and the current difficulties over sanctions, both in acting for sanctioned individuals and in the possibility that sanctions on providing services to Russia might be extended to include legal services

A common question from lawyers is what they can individually do to help, to avoid looking on helplessly as Russia trashes areas of Ukraine.

Some may want to give money. The Law Society’s webpage refers readers either to the web-page of the Ukrainian National Bar Association (UNBA), which contains more information, or to major charities running appeals. For those more interested in a benefit in kind, there is a reference to the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The Ukraine web-page of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is much more upfront about money. (Most self-respecting bars have Ukraine web-pages these days, usually with an expected statement condemning Russian aggression. The CCBE has even written to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) offering to assist him with his investigation – see more on the investigation below.)

Regarding money, the CCBE says:

‘The Ukrainian National Bar Association has made a call for donations to support the Ukrainian lawyers and their families. The aid will be distributed by the Charity Foundation of the National Bar Association of Ukraine (100% owned by the National Bar Association of Ukraine) to those lawyers who need it the most, including those who have lost their homes, been injured, have no means of subsistence. A Board of Trustees will prepare and publish a report on the use of these funds.’











Refugee lawyer describes harrowing invasion of Ukraine


A Ukrainian lawyer described the harrowing scenes she witnessed after the Russian invasion, telling an ABA panel on April 7 that she was forced to flee her country with her three young children and leave behind her husband.

Alesya Pavlynska, an employment lawyer at the Ukrainian firm Arzinger Law, described her shock as the first missiles shook Kyiv in the early hours of Feb. 24.

Her husband, Vitalii Shestak, told her and their three kids—Maria, Ivan and Oles—that they would need to take shelter. Pavlynska showed the panel a picture of her children bundled up in a frigid cellar and huddled around their phones.

“It seemed to be unreal and not possible in the modern world—in modern Europe,” Pavlynska said of the moment it dawned on her the invasion was happening.

More than 4.6 million Ukrainians have fled into Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldava and Romania. The ABA convened the webinar, “Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis: The Faces of War,” to discuss the ongoing crisis and how its members can help.


ABA President Reginald M. Turner Jr. echoed Pavlynska’s message about the rule of law in remarks prerecorded for the webinar audience, saying the war and crisis had to be viewed through the lens of the “fundamental premise to advance liberty and justice for all.”

“Lawyers believe not in the rule of force, but in the rule of law. We believe that human rights are the bedrock of life and liberty. Our stake in the rule of law compels us to denounce the Russian invasion and rededicate our support of international institutions that promote peace and security,” Turner said.

Advocates urge fast action

Speaking from London, Ukrainian Bar Association President Anna Ogrenchuk said she wants the international community to form a special tribunal to investigate war crimes after documented atrocities in Bucha. Ogrenchuk says it’s likely war crimes have been committed in other parts of the country where the Russian military is present. She urged the American legal community to use its clout to support the tribunal and gather evidence.

“We need your expertise. We need your help in investigating and documenting all war crimes —when the crimes are still been committed,” Ogrenchuk said.

More should also be done to cripple the Russian economy, she added. The UBA has released several open letters, including ones to international companies and businesses operating in Russia and international law firms, legal associations and regulators.

“Every day of war costs Russia about $20 billion, and this money comes from companies who pay taxes in Russia,” Ogrenchuk said. “A full economic embargo is the only alternative to a very long and damaging war in Ukraine.”

There are approximately 60,000 attorneys in Ukraine, and about half of them are women, Ogrenchuk added. She said her bar association estimates that two-thirds of female lawyers have left the country, but women are currently doing the bulk of legal work because many male lawyers have enlisted in the military.



WEBINAR – Lawyers assist Ukraine – 20 April 2022 at 9.30 CET



Russia/Lithuania: Law student Sofia Sapega Goes On Trial In Belarus In Closed-Door Procedure


The Russian girlfriend of a Belarusian opposition journalist who were both arrested when their plane was forced to land in Minsk last year triggering global outrage has gone on trial.

Sofia Sapega could face up to six years in jail if found guilty of charges that include “inciting social hatred” and “violence or threats” against police.

The closed-door hearing began on March 28 in the western city of Hrodna.

Sapega, 24, was detained with Belarusian opposition activist Raman Pratasevich, 26, in May when Belarus scrambled a military jet to force a Ryanair passenger jet flying over its airspace to land in Minsk. Many countries regarded the diversion as a “state hijacking.”

After the plane landed, law enforcement immediately arrested the two, who were flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. They were later put under house arrest.

Human Rights Watch has described the arrests as part of a “purge” of civil society in Belarus by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Pratasevich faces charges of being behind civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.






https://www.rtbf.be/article/bielorussie-debut-du-proces-de-la-compagne-de-protassevitch-l-opposant-dont-l-avion-avait-ete-deroute-en-2021-10964228 (FRANCAIS)

https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-arranca-bielorrusia-juicio-rusa-sofia-sapega-pareja-opositor-protasevich-20220328105728.html (ESPANOL)

Belarus: ICJ deplores the continuing reprisals against independent lawyers


Reprisals against independent lawyers in Belarus must end, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.

The ICJ calls on the Bar Association of Belarus, the Bar Association of Minsk, and the Ministry of Justice to cease the practice of the use of “re-certification” procedures, disciplinary proceedings, and disbarments as an effective means of reprisals against lawyers for defending the rights and interests of their clients.

“The multiple cases of disbarments or disqualifications of lawyers in Belarus, which have continued since the contested Presidential elections in 2020, are clearly intended to silence independent lawyers who act in accordance with their professional duties”, said Temur Shakirov, Senior Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme. “Such attacks on the legal profession have a chilling effect and deprive the profession of those lawyers who defend their clients’ human rights guaranteed under international human rights law”, he added.

In the latest case of apparent reprisal, on 27 January 2022, the Ministry of Justice declared Alexander Filanovich to be “incapable” of performing his duties as a lawyer due to “insufficient qualifications.” This decision comes after Alexander Filanovich did not pass certification by the Qualification Commission on 26 January 2022. He later announced via his Facebook page that his license would be revoked within a month. Alexander Filanovich previously served as a lawyer for Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen detained along with blogger Roman Protasevich in Minsk, after the Belarusian authorities forcibly landed a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania.

The ICJ has previously expressed concern over the growing number of disciplinary cases in Belarus, including disbarments of lawyers, particularly those who have represented opposition members, activists, and political opposition. This included the decision to disbar lawyer Natalia Matskevich, who previously represented former presidential candidate Victor Babariko. The ICJ also spoke out regarding the disbarments of Dmitry Layevsky, Aleksey Telegin, Valery Zvyagintsev, Yekaterina Zheltonoga, Andrey Gashinsky, Andrey Mochalov, Mikhail Bondrachuk.




Political Prisoners in Belarus