Statement of the Belarusian National Youth Council “RADA” in connection with the sentencing of Marfa Rabkova
Since 2020, the public sector of Belarus has suffered the loss of at least 965 institutionalized forms of non-profit organizations (public associations, trade unions, foundations, non-governmental institutions and associations). In addition, legislative amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in December 2021 restored the application of criminal liability for “actions on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organizations. We reiterate that the Belarusian government has grossly violated the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly over the past several years, which we, as an association of civil society organizations, have sought to protect. We also reiterate our deep concern about the impact of this complex policy on the state of the civil sector.
Today, 6 September, the sentence was announced to Marfa Rabkova, 27-year-old human rights activist and coordinator of the Volunteer Service of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, detained on 17 September 2020 and charged under 11 articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Marfa Rabkova was sentenced to 15 years in prison. This sentence is one of the most extensive sentences handed down to activists of public organizations. On April 30, 2021, Marfa was placed on the preventive register as “prone to extremist and other destructive activities.
We recall that a coalition of Belarusian human rights organizations declared Maria Rabkova a political prisoner; several well-known international human rights organizations demanded her immediate release from the first day of detention. This persecution of Marfa is politically motivated – it is a direct attempt by the current regime to put pressure on public activism to stop the independent movement.
With her active participation, dozens of observations of peaceful assemblies of citizens were organized, more than 100 court hearings on administrative cases against detained participants of peaceful actions were monitored, and trainings for new volunteers were arranged. In 2020 Marfa Rabkova was involved in the selection and training of short-term observers for the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign. During and after the election campaign, she actively participated in organizing help for repressed activists and their families and took part in documenting the testimony of victims of torture and abuse by security forces during the early days of the protests.
During her imprisonment, Marfa repeatedly reported a deterioration in her physical condition, lost consciousness several times, and needed medical attention. Only through an announcement and public support of the #FreeViasna campaign was she able to get an appointment with a doctor. We are seriously concerned about her state of health and how prison officials are using the denial of care as additional pressure on political prisoners.
The repression of Viasna and its associates is part of a complex repressive policy against civil society in Belarus. This situation once again confirms the disposition of the Belarusian regime to oppose the existence of civil society. We recall that civil society is the main initiator of the formation of more sustainable social structures that support vulnerable groups, represent the interests of civic ensembles, and directly influence the resolution of acute social issues.
In this regard, we:
- Express solidarity and support to the coordinator of our member organization, HRC Volunteer Service “Vesna”, and recognize this fact of pressure on a youth activist, or human rights activist as intolerable;
- Condemn the politically motivated criminal charges against her and demand her immediate release and the cessation of all persecutions against her;
- Call upon independent Belarusian youth organizations and other civil society actors in Belarus to join the stand with Maria Rabkova;
- Call upon the international community, including democratic governments and international organizations, the UN, to condemn the sentence and support the demand for the immediate release of Mariya Rabkova from her groundless and illegal politically motivated detention.