The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch has presented an annual report on the human rights situation in the world.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), headquartered in the United States, is a non-governmental organization monitoring, investigating and documenting human rights violations in more than 70 countries. Its worldwide report is made every year.
Assessing the year 2016, the human rights organization came to the conclusion that the Belarusian authorities’ rhetoric regarding human rights was positive, but was not supported by a real improvement in the situation.
Human rights activists believe that the Belarusian government continued its offensive against civil society last year. The scale of peaceful protesters’ arrests reached an unprecedented level in 2017.
The peak of arrests occurred during the "protest spring of 2017", when, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 700 people, including about 100 journalists and 60 human rights defenders, were arbitrarily detained by the police in connection with the Marches of Non-Parasites.
"A lot of them were beaten with fists, legs or truncheons during detention. At least 177 people were brought to administrative responsibility on far-fetched charges, such as hooliganism or participating in an unauthorized public event; at formal hearings they were fined or arrested for up to 25 days. A lot of them did not have access to lawyers or a possibility to call witnesses in their defense," – the report says.
The document also criticizes Belarus for the preservation of the death penalty, the refusal to cooperate with the special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, and the harassment of human rights defenders. According to HRW, no steps were taken by the Belarusian authorities to abolish the death penalty in 2017.
"But European governments and institutions continued to strengthen relations with Minsk despite the absence of tangible progress in the human rights situation," – the human rights activists sum up.
The human rights defenders also pay attention to the lack of freedom of association, persecution of journalists and the lack of freedom of expression. In their opinion, maintaining the restrictive nature of laws and regulations, limiting public associations, does not allow human rights groups or opposition movements to register and work freely. The participation in an unregistered organization bears criminal responsibility. Most refusals in registration are made on the basis of arbitrary bureaucratic objections.
"The restrictive legislation still does not allow human rights groups to register and work freely. Since 2000, no new political party has been able to obtain registration," – the report says.
The authorities of Belarus also did not provide real protection to hundreds of people – mostly immigrants from the Chechen Republic of Russia, who came to the country in order to seek asylum in neighboring Poland, the report says.
"There is no efficient national system for granting asylum in Belarus itself. In 2017, at least two people from Chechnya, seeking asylum, were – despite the high risk of ill-treatment – returned to Russia, which the Belarusian authorities consider as a safe country of origin," – the human rights activists state.