The five Special Rapporteurs expressed outrage at the arrest, alleged torture and forced confession of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich (Raman Pratasevich), who was arbitrarily detained on May 23 in a case that sparked international condemnation.
Mr. Protasevich, 26, was on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania that was forcibly diverted to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, due to an alleged bomb threat.
“Reckless” arrest, torture reported
He was arrested when passengers disembarked and reportedly charged with inciting public disorder and social hatred in the wake of the disputed August 2020 presidential election, which saw longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko return to power , sparking months of mass protests.
“The reckless way Roman Protasevich was arrested, reports that he may have been tortured to extort a false confession, denied access to his lawyer, and fears that he may face harsh conviction show a total disregard for human rights. international standards by the authorities in Belarus, ”the UN experts She said.
Independent experts expressed deep concern about Mr. Protasevich and demanded his immediate release and that of other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained in Belarus.
‘Severe and Relentless Repression’
“The scandalous way in which Mr. Protasevich was intercepted and arrested shows that there is no limit to what this government will do to silence critics. It is a striking example of a severe and relentless crackdown on all voices independent of the contested election results of August 2020, “they added.
They recalled that last month the authorities raided the offices of Tut.by, the country’s largest independent online news site, which had covered the protests following the election results. Searches were also carried out at the homes of several staff members and documents were seized.
At least 13 staff members were reportedly detained, some of whom did not have access to a lawyer, allegedly in connection with a criminal investigation into tax evasion. Last December, the site was stripped of its media license, allegedly for spreading “false information”.
“Recent events indicate that media freedom in Belarus has entered a black hole with no end in sight,” said the experts.
“In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and the aftermath, authorities arbitrarily detained and beaten journalists, opposition members, human rights defenders and citizens participating in peaceful protests, prosecuted them on politically motivated charges, revoked accreditation of media operators, broke into their homes and offices and blocked their websites ”.
Increase the pressure
Experts also expressed grave concern over recent amendments to mass media and assembly laws, which allow authorities to block the operation of any media that publishes content that “threatens national security.”
Likewise, the authorities can also block access to websites that disseminate information “aimed at promoting extremist activity” or that are “capable of harming the national interest”.
They urged countries “to increase pressure on the Belarusian authorities to stop attacks on media freedom, release journalists, human rights defenders and others arbitrarily detained; and ensure independent, transparent and impartial investigations into all reported human rights violations committed in the context of the elections, including allegations of torture and arbitrary detention ”.
Role of the Special Speakers
The five Special Rapporteurs who issued the statement monitor issues such as the human rights situation in Belarus, as well as the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association around the world.
They were nominated by the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva, and are not part of the UN staff nor are they paid by the Organization.