International Day of Solidarity with Civil Society in Belarus

Today, 4 August, is celebrated as the International Day of Solidarity with Civil Society in Belarus. It is all the more important as the human rights landscape in Belarus has not improved, having been overshadowed by events in Russia and Ukraine. This was underpinned by Miklós Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus in his report to the Human Rights Council at the end of June where he noted no real improvements in the human rights situation in the country.

Political prisoners still remain incarcerated on politically motivated or trumped up charges. The Belarusian government continues to severely curtail freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, and the right to a fair trial. Independent journalists face threats, arrests, and prison sentences based on falsified charges. Social media is often blocked and newspapers are constantly under threat of closure.

Unauthorised demonstrations are often harshly dealt with by security with arrests, beatings and other violent acts all too common. Pre-emptive arrests are also used prior to demonstrations limiting basic rights to freedom of assembly and association..

Civil Rights Defenders had the opportunity to catch up with Ales Bialiatski, one of Belarus’ leading human rights defenders and the head of the human rights organisation Viasna for his thoughts on this important day. Ales had spent 1052 days in prison on politically motivated charges and was released in June 2014. He is also the 2014 recipient of the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award.

“The International Day of Solidarity with Belarusian civil society – is a very important day for the country. We work under such difficult conditions, where the state relates to civil society not as a partner, but as a suspicion, distrusting mechanism, who strenuously limits by any possible means civil society activities and  influences,” said Ales Bialiatski. “The authoritarian government does not want a developed, independent and responsible civil society. NGO offices are constantly searched and targeted, while authorities are notorious for ignoring acute societal and political issues raised by those civil society groups who can barely survive”.

“In such a precarious environment international moral support for civil society is vital. It gives us the strength and confidence to work further. International solidarity is the absolute key for civil society groups in Belarus. Therefore, I call on you to join the celebration of August 4 as the International Day of Solidarity with the Civil Society of Belarus and please find a way to express your solidarity on this day”