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Watchdog Blasts 'Relentless Persecution' Of Civil Society In Belarus

Marfa Rabkova rejects all the accusations against her as politically motivated.
Marfa Rabkova rejects all the accusations against her as politically motivated.

Amnesty International has reiterated its call on Belarusian authorities to immediately to release the dozens of human rights activists who have been arbitrarily detained since a disputed presidential election in August 2020, and put an end to their "relentless persecution" of civil society groups.

Marie Struthers, the London-based human rights watchdog's Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, issued the plea on December 1 as a coordinator of the Vyasna human rights center faced fresh charges linked to "endangering national security" that could lead to up to 20 years in prison.

Rabkova's case "epitomizes the horrors currently faced by human rights defenders and the wider civil society in Belarus," Struthers said in a statement.

Over the past 18 months, she added, the regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka "has effectively outlawed the country's entire human rights community by imprisoning dozens of human rights activists under spurious charges, closing vast numbers of NGOs and arbitrarily detaining hundreds of peaceful protesters."

Rabkova has been held in pretrial detention since her arrest in September 2020 amid mass anti-Lukashenka demonstrations across the country that have sparked a brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown by the authorities.

Vyasna said on November 29 that Rabkova had obtained the final document defining charges against her. In all, the activist faces 13 charges, including calling for action that aims to damage national security.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

The activist has rejected all the accusations against her, saying they are politically motivated.

Seven other staff members from Vyasna have been arrested on "vaguely worded charges," and two of them have been sentenced to prison following closed-door trials, Amnesty International said.

Police in Belarus have violently cracked down on protesters, with thousands of detentions following the August 2020 election that demonstrators and opposition figures say was rigged to extend Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.

Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote, and imposed sanctions on him and his allies, citing election fraud and the police crackdown, which has also been aimed at press freedoms.

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