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Violations Continuing Against Belarus Protesters, UN Human Rights Office Warns

Kseniya Golubovich Since August 2020, Minsk and other cities in Belarus have seen mass protests with many calling for an end to excessive force used by the police.

More than three months on from the disputed presidential election in Belarus, the Belarusian Government continues to “wield the machinery of the State to commit human rights violations”, the Spokesperson for the UN human rights office warned on Friday.

In a statement, OHCHR’s Rupert Colville expressed deep concern over the use of force by law enforcement officials, against Belarusians who have taken to the streets across the country in peaceful mass demonstrations to voice their grievances, since the contested result was announced of the 9 August presidential election.

Some 231 individuals, including three journalists, were reportedly detained on 1 November as suspects in a criminal case concerning the organization and active participation in actions that, it’s alleged, “grossly violate public order” – a charge that potentially carries a prison term of three years, the statement added.

Excessive use of force

Reacting to the continued reports of arbitrary mass detentions, Mr. Colville said it’s estimated that more than 25,000 people have been detained, including more than 1,000 who took part in solidarity protests in the capital, Minsk, and throughout Belarus on 8 November.

Mr. Colville, told journalists at the regular Friday press briefing in Geneva, that “Belarussian authorities were increasingly bringing criminal charges against these persons”.

Students’ right to education at risk

In recent weeks, the authorities have broadened the scope of those being targeted, with students and medical workers in particular, now facing undue restrictions and pressure, the statement detailed.

“Students who had supported people on strike were now facing undue restrictions and pressure”, being threatened with expulsion from their educational institutions”, Mr. Colville added.

Since 26 October, at least 127 students have reportedly been expelled from their courses, jeopardizing their right to education and prospects for employment.

Speaking on the latest developments in the country, Mr. Colville regretted that it “only strengthened the sense that impunity for apparently widespread human rights violations committed during the protests and in detention was continuing unchecked”.

Mr. Colville also deplored the death, on Thursday, of a 31-year-old man, Mr. Roman Bondarenko, after allegedly being ill-treated by security forces. Mr. Bondarenko’s death has led to increased tension and further protests.

Victims of violence, torture

This week, reports have surfaced that some 60 victims of violence and torture who had received financial assistance from a charity fund, had had their bank accounts frozen on the orders of the authorities, the Spokesperson said.

“The Belarusian Government has to date provided no information regarding the process and outcomes of investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment against protesters, both during arrests and in detention”, he added.

He reiterated concerns that “no action seemed to have been taken to investigate such reports and bring those responsible to justice”, and reminded the Belarusian authorities of the “absolute prohibition of torture and the need for thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations, with a view to ensuring accountability, ensuring access to an effective remedy for victims and preventing a further deterioration of the situation”.

Highlighting the need also for a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into Mr. Bondarenko’s death, OHCHR called for the immediate liberation of “all those detained for voicing their dissent or for taking part in protests, and other peaceful actions.”

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