UN calls for release of 1,000 political prisoners held in Belarus

Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, calls for the release of activists, opposition members and journalists from the Belarusian jails.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivers a speech
Bachelet delivers a speech at the UN Human Right Council in Geneva [File: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

The UN human rights chief has said that more than 1,000 activists, opposition members and journalists are being detained on “politically motivated charges” in Belarus and called for their release.

Michelle Bachelet on Thursday said the government of President Alexander Lukashenko was carrying out violations of a “widespread and systematic nature” since large-scale protests against his contested victory in 2020’s elections.

The Minsk government carried out a “massive crackdown including widespread excessive use of force”, she said in an address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Bachelet also said that 13,500 people had been arrested after the August 2020 election and protests, and that her office found that many had suffered repeated beatings, as well as rapes and other forms of violence.

Belarusian opposition supporters protest against presidential election results in Minsk
Belarusian law enforcement officers detain a woman during an opposition rally in 2020 [File: Tut.By via Reuters]

Belarus’s delegation dismissed her report, with its diplomat Andrei Taranda telling the forum: “It is filled with allegations and false accusations.”

“Its conclusions and recommendations are aimed at supporting any structures and organisations, as long as they work against Belarus,” Taranda added.

Suppressing dissent

Bachelet said, “Our examination finds that the government has sought to suppress all forms of criticism and has actively tried to prevent justice, accountability and truth about the violations committed.”

“I urge the government of Belarus to immediately release all prisoners sentenced on politically motivated grounds and cease all other ongoing human rights violations, including the systematic repression of civil society, independent media and opposition groups,” she said.

Bachelet said that there were no reasonable grounds to expect national systems in Belarus to deliver justice, so other states should work towards holding perpetrators there to account through their national proceedings, based on principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction.

People protest against the election results and the ongoing violence after the Belarusian presidential elections, at Old Town Square in Prague
People protest against the Belarusian government at Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic [File: Martin Divisek/EPA]
Source: News Agencies