Prisoner of Conscience: Marfa Rabkova
On September 17, officers from the Interior Ministry detained a Belarusian human rights advocate, Marfa Rabkova, and her husband. Later, officers searched their home in Belarus’ capital, Minsk, and confiscated some personal property, including their laptops and cell phones.
A week later, Rabkova was charged with planning to incite riots, an accusation which both Belarusian and international human rights advocates see as unjust and fabricated. If convicted, she faces up to three years in jail.
Rabkova coordinates the Volunteer Service of Viasna, a Minsk-based human rights organization which also monitors elections and protests. Ales Bialiatski, Viasna’s chairman and a former prisoner of conscience, thinks Rabkova’s detention is politically motivated. As part of her job, Rabkova monitored peaceful gatherings during the recent national election campaign, tracking cases of the torture and abuse of arrested demonstrators.
Mass protests erupted in this former soviet republic following an election on August 9. Alexander Lukashenko, a strongman who has ruled the country for 26 years, declared a landslide victory. His claim of getting 80 percent is considered dishonest by most independent Belarusian and international observers. The main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (BY: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya), disputed these results and was forced to flee the country. She currently lives in exile in neighbouring Lithuania.
Since the summer, thousands of protesters, including human rights advocates and journalists, have been arrested; many have been beaten or harassed. Security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades during rallies that were predominantly peaceful. Some people are now missing, others have been found dead.
In October, Amnesty International expressed concern about the criminal persecution of Rabkova and called for her immediate release. In the meantime, Viasna announced that other members of the organization had also been detained.
“Marfa Rabkova has committed no crime and there are no grounds for her prosecution,” reads the statement. “Her arrest, detention, and prosecution are retaliation for her human rights work, and constitute a major breach of Belarus’ obligations under international human rights law.”
In November, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Belarus, criticizing “continuous violations of human rights” in the country, including the murder of Raman Bandarenka, a 31-year old teacher who was beaten to death on November 11 by a group of masked men thought be close to Lukashenko. The statement, adopted by 613 votes in favour, refuses to recognize him as the president of Belarus and calls for new and fair elections.
Members of the European Parliament condemned the Belarussian authorities, saying they had met the peaceful rallies “with violence, repression, systematic intimidation, harassment, restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and inhumane treatment, including torture and sexual violence against people detained during protests, human rights defenders included”. European Union also agreed to impose sanctions on the Belarusian leader and a number of Belarusian officials, which include banning visas and freezing assets.
Disclaimer: As of December 1, 2020, Marfa Rabkova is still in custody.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature this year the following prisoners of conscience, out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many. Stay tuned for the release of the other stories. Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll