UK and 35 other countries call for immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners in Belarus.

Thank you, Mister Chairman, 

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the following participating States, who are members of the Informal Group of Friends of Democratic Belarus: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and my own country, Latvia. 

The following participating States are also joining this statement: Albania, Austria, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine.  

On May 21, 2021, Belarusian activist Vitold Ashurak died in prison while serving a five-year sentence for participating in peaceful protests against his country’s fraudulent 2020 presidential elections.  Since then, at least five more political prisoners have died in places of detention across Belarus: Mikalai Klimovich, Ales Pushkin, Vadzim Khrasko, Ihar Lednik, and, just last month, Aliaksandr Kulinich.  It is to bring attention to these tragic and wholly avoidable deaths under the watch of the state security apparatus that we mark May 21 as the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus.  According to the Viasna Human Rights Center, all six of these men – imprisoned on spurious charges simply for opposing or satirizing Belarusian authorities or making donations to opposition groups – received untimely or inadequate medical care in detention.  

Since August 2020, Belarusian authorities have made over 40,000 politically motivated arrests and pursued at least 12,000 politically motivated criminal cases.  Approximately 1,400 political prisoners remain behind bars, although the real number could be much higher.  Viasna estimates that 250 of them are at particular risk due to their health or medical conditions.  As the 2023 Moscow Mechanism report detailed, political prisoners are, quote, “being deprived of adequate food, water, and medical assistance, and subjected to constant beatings, overcrowded and unheated cells, and sleep deprivation.”  End quote.  The wife of Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski, who has spent over 1000 days in prison, has raised concerns about her husband’s deteriorating health due in part to his lack of access to medicine.  Moreover, a number of political prisoners, among them Maksim Znak, Viktar Babaryka, Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, Ihar Losik, and Maria Kalesnikava, are held incommunicado, having no contact with the outside world.  In light of this inhumane and degrading treatment, many political prisoners are at risk of deteriorating health and even death. 

Mr Chairperson, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of the approximately 1,400 political prisoners and a large-scale reform of existing laws to end systemic political repression in Belarus. We echo the recommendations made in the Moscow Mechanism report that Belarusian authorities immediately release political prisoners facing serious health issues or chronic conditions on humanitarian grounds. Once again, we urge Belarusian authorities to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law and consistent with their OSCE commitments, and ensure decent conditions of detention and appropriate medical care for all those imprisoned. Preventing any more senseless deaths in prison is the bare minimum that Belarusian authorities must do. 

Thank you, Mister Chairperson.

Published 23 May 2024