25/05/2011 08:03 – Thomas Hammarberg´s latest Human Rights Comment – In Belarus, the crackdown on opposition politicians, civil society groups, human rights defenders and media continues. While no less than seven hundred demonstrators were arrested in the evening after the elections of 19 December, several of them have now been brought to court, have faced unsubstantiated charges and received extreme sentences.

The presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, who was badly ill-treated, has now been sentenced to five years of hard labour for having protested against election fraud. Others who stood trial with him got between three and three and a half years in prison.

The charge was “organising mass disturbance”. The court held the well-known activists among the 30 000 peaceful demonstrators at Independence Square responsible for the broken windows on the House of Government caused by a small number of hooligans some distance from the main and orderly demonstration.

False charges against peaceful demonstrators

No proof has been shown for such a link between the peaceful mass demonstration and the violent actions by a few at the doors of the government site. The connection was rather that the police – after having failed to protect this building – responded by attacking the peaceful demonstrators with brutal, excessive force.

The politicised court procedures have been accompanied by stigmatising statements by government officials. Human rights defenders have been accused of being traitors and a fifth column. These attacks acquired a particularly senseless and menacing dimension after the terrorist attack at Minsk metro station on 11 April – as if there was any connection between this awful crime and human rights defence. One of those targeted was Ales Bialiatski, the head of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”.

Human rights defenders targeted

There have been numerous reported cases of intensified restrictions of general activities of human rights defenders and activists. They have been harassed and repeatedly questioned by law-enforcement officers. Private homes of leading members have been searched, warnings issued against individuals and organisations, and computers and data storage devices confiscated. The offices of major human rights defence organisations, such as Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, and of independent media have been searched. (more…)

On 9 May 2011, the Commissioner for Human Rights has published a press release about the publication of the report following his visit to Armenia from 18 to 21 January 2011. The report focuses on human rights issues related to the March 2008 events, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, and the human rights situation in the army.

Posted on 2010-07-13 – One year has passed since human rights defender Natalia Estemirova was brutally murdered. On 15 July 2009 she was abducted near her house in Grozny, Chechnya. She was pushed into a car by several assailants and some hours later her body was found in a forest in Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest. (all press releases) | (more…)

[29/06/10 09:30] “Freedom of expression is curtailed in Azerbaijan today – major improvements are needed” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, presenting today his report on the country. Following a visit carried out in March, the report focuses on freedom of expression and association, conduct of law enforcement officials, administration of justice, and contains some observations on the visit to the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan. The Commissioner is particularly concerned about cases of threats, harassment, and violence against journalists or human rights activists which have not been properly investigated. (read report) | (all reports) | (more…)

“In 2009, Europe witnessed a bleak record of fatalities of human rights activists, including journalists and lawyers. Serious threats and abuses also targeted their relatives and persons close to them. Concerns regarding criminal investigations, impunity of the perpetrators and the need to offer protection to human rights activists often failed to be effectively addressed”.

“In 2009, the Commissioner continued to develop a constructive relationship with human rights activists and non-governmental organisations working on human rights. The Commissioner promoted the strengthening of the enabling environment for human rights work by addressing key issues with the national authorities, in particular on security and protection, and by remaining in contact with human rights activists and non-governmental organisations working on human rights, notably during country visits”.

The 2009 Annual Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights, presented to the Parliamentary Assembly on April 28, 2010, contains two chapters on human rights defenders.

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