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#FreeViasna Campaign Launched To Free Belarusian Human Rights Defenders

Marfa Rabkova

A group of 23 international and Belarusian nongovernmental organizations are launching a campaign to demand the release of seven members of Belarus’s Vyasna human rights center who were detained as part of a wider crackdown on civil society following last year’s presidential election.

The #FreeViasna campaign was initiated on September 17, which the human rights groups said marks the anniversary of Belarusian authorities launching their “shameless witch hunt” against Vyasna by arbitrarily detaining coordinator Marfa Rabkova.

In the following months, six other members of the human rights organization were put behind bars and charged with “unfounded” criminal offenses for carrying out their legitimate human rights work, they said in a joint statement.

The campaign also aims at highlighting the plight of hundreds of other people who have been “prosecuted and jailed solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression” after the disputed August 2020 presidential election handed authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term.

Mass protests broke out against alleged election fraud, which were met by a brutal crackdown from the Lukashenka government.

The opposition and the West have refused to recognize the results and called for a new, independently monitored vote.

“Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government is wielding a war on civil society and ruthlessly suppressing all forms of dissent,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Key international actors should join forces to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Vyasna’s members and other jailed activists, and do their utmost to help and protect Belarusian civil society,” he said.

The human rights organizations are calling on people to join a global rally under the hashtag #FreeViasna.

Supporters are suggested to use their networks and social media to tell the world about the campaign using the #FreeViasna hashtag, take a picture with a campaign banner or a poster, write an open letter to an imprisoned human rights defender, and join rallies that are being organized across the world.

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