On 8 July 2021, the KGB officers detained the volunteers of the Country for Life foundation Maryna Dubrouskaya, Anton Stasheuski, Yulia Syrykh, and Tatsiana Astrouskaya in Minsk.
On 13 July 2021, it became known that the volunteers were charged with part 2 of article 361-2 of the Criminal Code (financing of an extremist group) and could face from five to eight years of imprisonment. All four of them were taken to a pre-trial detention center.
In light of this, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, state the following:
The charges brought against the volunteers of the Country for Life Foundation take place against a background of intensified repressions against representatives of the country’s civil society.
More and more often, in order to justify mass repressions in the country, the authorities use the so-called anti-extremist legislation – repressive amendments made to a number of laws of the country as a reaction to last-year protests. Employing the rhetoric of fighting extremism and terrorism, the authorities unleashed unprecedented repressions against political opponents of the current regime, independent journalists, human rights defenders, and other representatives of civil society.
It is a vicious practice to accuse volunteers who carry out humanitarian and charitable activities to assist victims of human rights violations of funding extremist organizations.
We reiterate that volunteer work to assist victims of political repression has nothing to do with extremist activities, does not finance them, is entirely peaceful in nature, and therefore pursues entirely legitimate goals. Such activities can’t be criminalized a priori, as they are not socially dangerous.
The Constitution of Belarus guarantees to every citizen the freedom of association with other persons for the realization of joint aims. This freedom is also guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and may not be subject to any restrictions except those that are established by law and are necessary in a democratic society for the purposes of national security and public safety, public order, public health, and morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
We are deeply convinced that Maryna Dubrouskaya, Anton Stasheuski, Yulia Syrykh, Tatsiana Astrouskaya have not committed any actions that would allow the authorities to restrict their freedom.
We consider their persecution as politically motivated, connected with their peaceful charitable, humanitarian activity and realization of the freedom of association.
Guided by para. 3.1(a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of a Political Prisoner, we recognize these persons as political prisoners and demand that the authorities of Belarus:
- Unconditional release of Maryna Dubrouskaya, Anton Stasheuski, Yulia Syrykh, Tatsiana Astrouskaya and immediate termination of their criminal prosecution.
- The release of all political prisoners and an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;
Belarusian PEN Center;
Belarusian Documentation Center;
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Initiative Group “Identity and Law”.