Joint Statement on the Political Prisoners in Belarus

Joint Statement on the Political Prisoners in Belarus

As delivered by Raphael Nägeli, Permanent representative of Switzerland to the OSCE
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
March 9, 2023  

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the eight delegations behind the Democracy Defender Initiative – Canada, Denmark, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and my own country, Switzerland.  

The Democracy Defender Award was established in 2016 and honours a person or a group for their exceptional contributions to the promotion of democracy and the defense of human rights in the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments. 

In early spring 2020 we awarded the prize to the Human Rights Center “Viasna” for their longstanding and unwavering efforts of defending human rights and democratic principles in Belarus. At that time, we could not have foreseen the unprecedented repression that followed in the coming months and years.  

Several members of Viasna have been sentenced to long prison sentences and the organisation’s offices have been searched multiple times. With the sentencing on 3 March of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, to ten years in prison on politically motivated charges by a Minsk Court, this wave of repression has reached new heights. Along with Mr. Bialiatski, Viasna’s deputy chairman Valiantsin Stefanovic, and the lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, were each sentenced to several years in prison.  

These sentences come after previous politically-motivated prison sentences against other Viasna members, including Zmitser Salauyou (tried in absentia), Marfa Rabkova (15 years), Andrei Chapiuk (6 years), and Leanid Sudalenka (3 years). 

We strongly condemn the continued attempts by the Belarusian authorities to silence all who stand up in defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms for the people in Belarus. We call on Belarus to comply with its human rights obligations and OSCE commitments and to immediately release Mr. Bialiatski and all those arbitrarily detained. 

We also condemn the politically-motivated prosecutions in absentia of Belarusian politicians, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Pavel Latushka, and Volha Kavalkova who were sentenced this week to lengthy prison terms for fighting for democracy in Belarus. 

I want to close with Mr. Bialiatski’s words  during his closing speech in court before his sentencing: “If we think of Belarus as our common homeland, where there is room for everyone, regardless of different political views and geopolitical preferences; if we do not want to plunge the country into poverty; if we do not want mass migration out of Belarus in search of a better life; if we want to get a chance for economic, social, political, ecological development of our people—we must start this national dialogue! Enough is enough, we must stop this civil war.“