ProtectDefenders.eu partners have been informed about the judicial harassment against Enira Branitskaya, lawyer and human rights expert, having cooperated with Human Constanta, as well as of the arbitrary detention of Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka and Hanna Sakalouskaya, and the arbitrary detention and subsequent release of Volha Shapakouskaya, five members of the Belarusian public association ‘Zvyano’, amid the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in Belarus.
On 6 April 2021, law enforcement officers searched the apartment of Enira Branitskaya and confiscated her digital equipment and money. Earlier, searches took place in her parents’ flat. On 7 April Ms. Branitskaya was summoned to the Investigative Committee of Belarus for interrogation. According to Ms. Branitskaya, these searches and interrogation would be part of a criminal case investigation on the activities of the International Committee for Investigation of Torture in Belarus, in which Enira Branitskaya is considered as a witness.
The Observatory recalls that Enira Branitskaya was the first woman recognised as a political prisoner in Belarus in 2006, when she was criminally charged for participating in an activity of an unregistered organisation (Article 193-1of the Criminal Code of Belarus) and spent half a year in prison.
On April 5, 2021, Natallia Trenina, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya, Yuliya Semenchanka, Hanna Sakalouskaya and Volha Shapakouskaya were arbitrarily detained in Minsk following their organisation of the “Machine breathes but I don’t” exhibition, which shed the light on the struggles of the medical personnel amid the COVID-19 crisis and the politicisation of healthcare in Belarus.
In addition, on the same day, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya’s apartment, as well as ‘Zvyano’ office, were searched and technical equipment was confiscated by law enforcement officers.
On April 6, 2021, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya was charged with “financing riots” (Part 3, Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On April 8, 2021 Tatsiana was sentenced to a fine of around 455 Euros, and her lawyer reported that she remains detained as a suspect in the criminal case. Natalia Trenina, Yulia Semenchanka and Hanna Sakalouskaya were sentenced to 7 days of detention. Volha Shapakouskaya was released following the payment of a fine of around 455 Euros. All were accused of “disobedience to lawful order or requirement of the public official” (Article 24.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences).
Belarus, ranked 158 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, is the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel. Critical journalists and bloggers are subjected to threats and violence and are arrested in large numbers. There are Internet cuts. Leading news websites are blocked. The print media are censored and access to information is restricted. Since the disputed presidential election in August 2020, the few independent media outlets have been hounded by police trying to prevent coverage of the huge street protests. They were already harassed by the authorities, fined and forced into exile, but they had not previously been persecuted on this scale.