Following verdicts against a number of human rights defenders in Belarus in a trial held behind closed doors, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) expressed alarm about the increasing repression of human rights defenders in the country as well as the lack of fair trial guarantees.

Yesterday’s sentences by the Minsk City Court included two human rights defenders: Maria (Marfa) Rabkova, volunteer service coordinator of Human Rights Centre ’Viasna’, who was sentenced to 15 years, and Andrei Chapiuk, a Viasna volunteer, sentenced to six years in prison.

“The space for human rights defenders in Belarus to carry out their important work is continuing to shrink,” said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. “Today’s sentences are further testimony to the organised repression of human rights defenders, which is having a chilling effect on all those active in combating human rights violations and upholding fundamental freedoms in the country. ODIHR remains ready to assist Belarus in coming in line with international standards and ensuring the human rights of all are protected.”

The environment for human rights defenders in Belarus deteriorated after the August 2020 presidential election. Organizations working to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus have had their premises raided and ransacked, their equipment confiscated, or their bank accounts frozen. Hundreds of organizations have been forcibly shut down, or opted to close, as it has become impossible to operate freely and legally in Belarus.

In this context, ODIHR is deeply concerned by the violations of the right to a fair trial, including closed court proceedings as well as the unjustified and excessive sentences handed down to human rights defenders. ODIHR once again reiterates the offer it has made on a number of occasions to undertake fair trial monitoring in Belarus.

All 57 countries of the OSCE have recognized the vital role that human rights defenders play in their societies to ensure full respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and ODIHR takes this opportunity to urge the Belarusian authorities to meet their international obligations and OSCE commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. ODIHR continues to stand firmly with human rights defenders across the region and to offer its expertise and tools to help in these efforts, for the benefit of all citizens.