Last week seven human rights organisations submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the case of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich. Mr Pratasevich has been held in arbitrary and inhuman conditions since 23 May 2021. As it is not possible to achieve justice and accountability in the journalist’s case at the national level, the organisations turned to the UN human rights system, requesting the expert body to declare his detention arbitrary.
The detention of Raman Pratasevich is emblematic of the Lukashenka regime’s unbridled repression of dissenting voices in the country. An independent journalist, Pratasevich was arbitrarily detained by Belarusian authorities on 23 May 2021, when Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, on which he was travelling, was diverted and forced to land at Minsk National Airport. After the hijacking of his flight by Belarusian authorities, Mr Pratasevich was taken off the tarmac into KGB custody, held on trumped up charges for his journalistic activities and held incommunicado.
According to Mr Pratasevich’s parents, Raman has been subjected to physical violence and/or psychological pressure in detention and forced to make false confessions on Belarusian state media. His access to independent and confidential legal and medical assistance has been severely restricted to the point of being ineffective. On 25 June 2021, the Belarusian authorities announced that Pratasevich and his partner, Sophia Sapega, who was detained together with him, had been transferred to “house arrest”. But this is a misnomer – Mr Pratasevich is held in an unknown location, he has no freedom of movement, his communications are restricted and supervised by live-in KGB guards, and he has no effective means of challenging his prosecution. This dubbed “house arrest” continues to constitute arbitrary detention. Raman Pratasevich is facing charges of organizing mass riots and inciting social hatred. Prior to his arrest, Belarus had placed him on its “terrorist” list and sought his extradition.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council, which has the mandate to investigate cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with international human rights standards. The Working Group’s communications procedure provides an opportunity for an independent assessment of individual cases, which is essential in Raman Pratasevich’s case.
In their joint submission, the seven organisations claim that Raman Pratasevich is a victim of Aliaxander Lukashenka’s campaign of repression against critics and opponents of his regime and that Pratasevich’s arrest was a reprisal for his legitimate journalistic activities. The organisations argue that the ongoing detention of Pratasevich constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty under categories I, II, III and V of the criteria established by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Upon receiving the complaint, the Working Group will invite the Belarusian government to comment on the alleged violations of Raman Pratasevich’s rights within 60 days. Following this, the Working Group will provide an authoritative assessment of the regime’s attack on independent journalism.
The organisations submitting the complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention include: Global Diligence, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Reporters without Borders, the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), Article 19, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR).