Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Belarus: UN rights official speaks out against sentencing of political opponents

UN - The top United Nations human rights official today voiced deep concern at the harsh sentencing of Vasil Parfyankou in the first of dozens of trials against opposition leaders and supporters in Belarus.

Mr. Parfyankou was arrested while participating in a rally protesting the outcome of the presidential elections on 19 December. He was found guilty of participating in mass disorder and sentenced to four years in a top security jail, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The prosecution and sentencing are particularly troubling given that he, together with dozens of other opposition activists, is facing trial for exercising his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said High Commissioner Navi Pillay.

“The continued detention of political opponents, harassment of civil society and intimidation of the independent media are serious human rights violations,” she added.

According to OHCHR, between 30 and 40 of those detained following the 19 December crackdown on protestors remain in custody, many in the special detention centre of the KGB of Belarus. While some prominent opposition figures and journalists have been released, and some put under house arrest, more detentions and arrests took place at the beginning of this year.

Ms. Pillay noted that the length and conditions of pre-trial detention in Belarus do not comply with the standards stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Her office has also received reports of the continued intimidation of lawyers who provide legal counsel to the detainees and journalists, as well as the harassment of non-governmental organizations.

“I have stressed before to the Belarus Government and I shall say it again: States have a duty to protect human rights defenders, journalists and civil society from threats, retaliation or pressure stemming from the legitimate exercise of their work in defence of human rights,” stated Ms. Pillay.

She called for the immediate release of political detainees, including the remaining presidential candidates, and urged the Government to take its human rights obligations seriously.