Call to the EU: “Assist Belarusians Seeking Democracy and Human Rights. Do more”

  • Reform movement facing crushing regime violence
  • THE EU AND ITS MEMBER STATES NEED TO DO MORE, The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers say.
  • Other NGOs requested to join their call to the EU. Send an email to with the sentence



FOREF/ HRWF (20.11.2020) – Two international human rights organizations appealed to authorities in the European Union and the United States to assist the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, which they said was being “subjected to increasingly harsh brutality by the dictatorial regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.”


“The citizens and leaders of democracies cannot allow security, police and prison officials of a European country to ruthlessly detain, torture and even beat to death peaceful demonstrators who want nothing more than the internationally-guaranteed right to a free and fair election,” wrote the Forum for Religious Freedom–Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers.


“They must do whatever it takes to convince Lukashenka, and those who support him from abroad, to listen to and respect the Belarusian people’s demand to embark on needed political reforms, starting with a new, honest election.”


Since protests began in August, massive numbers of Belarusians from all walks of life have been arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, jailed or fined.


The OMON, or Special Purpose Police Force under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, assisted by police troops and even civilian regime employees have become more and more savage. Eventually, six young men have been killed, of whom at least two were beaten to death in the street or right outside their homes. It is believed that Lukashenka himself gave strict orders to use all means necessary to make the protests stop, thus sanctioning unrestricted violence.


According to the Viasna Human Rights Center, an independent monitoring group  (, as of 15 November, 25,800 persons had been detained; on 15 November alone, 1,127 persons were detained. Approximately 24,000 of those detained had been sentenced to short prison terms (»administrative arrests«) for up to 15 days and/or fined. The state has initiated approximately 900 criminal cases against protestors. Hundreds have already been tried and sentenced to years in prison.


More than four thousand (4,000) complaints about torture and other grave abuses by the police and prison staff have been filed. Not one was investigated. Lukashenka told the country’s prosecutors on 9 September that, in times like these, “We don’t care about the law.” (


But as violence against peaceful demonstrators has increased, international attention has decreased, a vector that serves repression not only in Belarus, but in other autocratic lands as well.  With the integrity of democracies, and indeed democracy itself on the line, robust support for the reform movement is of utmost urgency. While Lithuania and Poland strongly support the Belarusan movement against the dictatorship, Western governments and the EU need to do more.



Background:  One Stolen Election Too Far


For 26 years, Belarus (population: 9.8 million) has been ruled with an iron fist by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has kept many Soviet institutions (including the KGB) and an essentially Soviet economic system in place. For many years Belarus has had no forceful opposition, since those who could have threatened the president’s position have disappeared or been forced into exile in the late 1990s.


The country has been able to survive economically by maintaining strong ties with Russia, which has in effect subsidized Belarus’ economy and thus kept the president in power.


Elected in 1994, former state farm manager Lukashenka held a referendum in 1995, after which Soviet symbols were resurrected; Belarus is the only post-Soviet state that has kept the former Soviet flag and coat of arms. The referendum also effectively ensured that the national language, as during Soviet times, retained an inferior status vis-a-vis Russian.


In 1996, Lukashenka held a second, fraudulent referendum, which gave him literally unlimited, powers. Every official in government, the health system, the education and cultural institutions, in industry, military, police, and even the courts is appointed by Lukashenka, making him a bona-fide dictator. He openly refers to himself as the people’s »Daddy,« to whom all are indebted.  Lukashenka has built up a large security apparatus to repress freedom and change. The police, especially the riot police (OMON) and the internal security forces (the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior) are very large in size and also armed and equipped as if the country were facing an imminent danger of a major civil war.


Lukashenka was reelected five times, each time claiming a larger percentage of the electorate than the previous one. In the run-up to the election on 9 August 2020, as expected, all potential serious competitors were sentenced to lengthy jail terms.  But then these candidates’ wives registered themselves as candidates, a strategy not seen as a serious threat to Lukashenka’s continued rule, because the candidates were women.


In the event, the opposition rallied behind one candidate, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya. The day following the election, the Central Electoral Commission announced that Lukashenka had won with 80 percent of the votes, a Soviet-like margin, which only reinforced the conviction of a majority that fair elections, and democracy itself, do not exist in Belarus.


Hundreds of thousands of voters, assisted by the »Golos« (Vote) website (, which was able to produce statistically significant data, immediately reacted; large crowds, most of them women, took to the streets to protest this gross injustice, demanding Lukashenka’s resignation, as well as fresh, honest elections.


Since that time, marches of similar size have shaken the capital city of Miensk. They have been mirrored in all towns and even villages. The largest protest march was on 23 August with approximately 250,000 people taking part (  Almost the same number was again achieved on 25 October ( ), the day after the president-elect, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya, presented the regime with an ultimatum to leave or face countrywide strikes and civil disobedience.


Numerous workers at large and small government owned industries went on strike, in spite of threats of dismissal and even criminal charges. These strikes, and also »work slow« or »work by the rules« actions, present a real danger to the regime, given its chronic economic weaknesses.


Unprecedented are the marches of senior citizens, with tens of thousands of participants, the marches of grandmothers, and those of women and girls. The latter, in order to avoid being beaten or detained, began walking in small numbers carrying flowers rather than traditional white-red-white flags or dresses in those colors.


Also remarkable were the marches of disabled persons and their caregivers. Disabled people (e.g. in wheelchairs) are a rare sight in Belarusan streets, but now they, too, wanted to do express their desire to live in a free society.


The OMON arrested hundreds of participants at the large Sunday marches, and kept them in police lockups and pre-trial detention facilities (SIZO). The first wave of prisoners were tortured and kept in inhuman conditions. They were beaten with batons and kicked with heavy boots, insulted and humiliated. They were kept in cells overfilled to 4-8 times their regular capacity, and denied drinking water and sanitary facilities. Their families were denied information about their whereabouts.


One of the most famous cases was that of a woman basketball player, Yelena Leuchanka. She was eventually released and described the conditions in the prison: 19 women in a six-cot cell were deprived of matrasses. The sewage was cut off. She had a chance to meet the warden and asked what the reason was for making the lives of the detainees miserable, and who had given that order. The  warden replied that he had given the order himself, to make sure that the detainees for the future refrain from actions that would send them back to prison. (


Yet, the huge marches have continued unabated, while the number of arrests and detentions has increased. There were more and more »security« forces deployed in the streets. Most of them wear black SWAT uniforms with no identification marks. All wear balaclavas to mask their identity. Eventually, water canons, some with orange-colored water,  were employed. Scores of overfilled police busses took those arrested to the detention facilities, in which conditions have gradually worsened. Hundreds of relatives stood for hours on end in lines at the prison gate to give food and essential hygiene wares to their jailed loved ones.


All categories of citizens have protested in the streets. Many of those who held important functions in society like physicians, university professors, lawyers, journalists, musicians, and top athletes were detained. Their sin: having taken part in an »unauthorized mass event« or »carrying unauthorized symbols« (meaning the traditional white-red-white flag). Some have been even arrested for gathering in their court yards to listen to music and sing and dance.


For more information:


Dr. Aaron Rhodes, President, FOREF –

Mr Peter Zoehrer, Executive Director, FOREF –, Phone: +43 (0)6645238794

Mr. Willy Fautre, Director, HRWF –

ARMENIA: Nagorno-Karabakh War: Putin destabilising Pashinyan’s regime

By Willy Fautre (Human Rights Without Frontiers)


The European Times (17.11.2020) – – On 9 November 2020, an armistice agreement was signed between Baku and Yerevan under the aegis of Moscow after over six weeks of fighting.


Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Armenia suffered a crushing defeat and lost territories that have been under its control for about 30 years. President Ilham Alijev’s Azerbaijan regained about one half of the territories seized by Armenian forces in the early 1990’s that Azerbaijan had been trying to reclaim for decades on the basis of several UN resolutions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey asserted its ambitions to be recognised as a regional power in the Caucasus and President Vladimir Putin’s Russia imposed a unilateral peacekeeping operation under its sole authority.


By stopping the war, Putin is freezing – again – the conflict between the two former Soviet republics and increasing his military presence on the ground. The deployment of peace troops in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor strengthens Russia’s dominant position in the Caucasus, side-lining and making obsolete the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia, and the US since its inception in 1992.


Another important opportunity for Putin to expand Russia’s reach in the region might still be to come: the toppling of Pashinyan by the same people who elected him two years ago. In the aftermath of the armistice, thousands of Armenians have expressed feeling humiliated and betrayed by their Prime Minister. They said Pashinyan did not have the right to sign such an agreement without consulting the people. They took to the streets to protest the secured territorial advances for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, storming the parliament building and demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. However, he refuses to step down.


Pashinyan was the leader of the 2018 Armenian revolution that overthrew the corrupt and dictatorial regime of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. On 8 May 2018, Pashinyan managed to obtain enough votes from the Parliament to become the Prime Minister himself.


For years, Putin has sold arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. He had good relations with former PM Sargsyan and so he was greatly concerned at the emergence of a people’s revolution calling for a democratic regime. Rebellions and quests for democracy and human rights in Russia’s neighbourhood are always perceived as an existential threat to Putin’s own rule because revolutions can be contagious.


The question is if Putin could have intervened more energetically at an earlier stage of the conflict to put an end to it or if he waited on purpose until the inevitable capitulation of Armenia to successfully push his pawns forward. Now that Pashinyan’s rule is contested, a regime change that side-lines the influence of the West in Yerevan and aligns more with Moscow might be the next episode in the post-conflict period.


The successful political and diplomatic operation led by Putin provides him with significant leverage to manipulate and pressure all parties in the region for a long time to come, pending a definitive solution which seems unlikely.

Photo: The European Times.

WEBINAR INVITATION: Humanitarian Situation in the Occupied Territories of Eastern Ukraine

Friday 20 November 2020

 Brussels (CET): 4.30pm – 5.30pm

Kyiv (EET): 5.30pm – 6.30pm

USA (Washington, DC | EST): 10.30 – 11.30am

Please send an email to with your first name, last name, and email address to register.


Moderator: Willy Fautré (Director and Co-Founder of Human Rights Without Frontiers International)


Tetiana Yakubovych (Ukrainian journalist, editor of Radio Donbas and manages Realities project of Radio Liberty) – Presentation on the humanitarian situation in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.


Elina Shishkina (Advocacy Coordinator at the Right to Protection Charitable Foundation, Ukraine) – Presentation on the situation with crossing the Ukrainian border from ORDLO.


Maksym Vasin (Executive Director of Institute for Religious Freedom, Ukraine) – Presentation on the religious situation in the non-government-controlled areas in Eastern Ukraine.


Oleksandra Matviychuk (Chairman of the Board of the Center for Civil Liberties) – Presentation on the situation for detainees and places of illegal detention in ORDLO.




Tetiana Yakubovych is a Ukrainian journalist and the editor of Radio Donbas. She manages the Realities project of Radio Liberty (Ukraine), which focuses on the issues in the Ukrainian-controlled and occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. She has more than 10-years’ experience reporting on political and social topics as well as the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. She is the author of documentaries and hosts live programs at Radio ERA broadcasting company and Radio Liberty.,


Elina Shyshkina is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Right to Protection Charitable Foundation in Ukraine.


In 2005, Elina Shyshkina graduated from the Institute of International Relations of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Later, in 2009, she defended her PhD in Law. Elina Shyshkina was an intern in the Lower House of the Parliament of Canada and the European Court of Human Rights. From 2007 to 2012 she served as a Deputy of the Parliament of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada). In 2013, she started working as the Program Director of the USAID Responsible Accountable Democratic Assembly (RADA) Program until 2016.


Elina Shyshkina joined the Right to Protection Charitable Foundation in July 2017 as a legal analyst for housing, land, and property. She has been the Foundation’s Advocacy Coordinator since August 2020.,


Maksym Vasin is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom (Ukraine).


Maksym Vasin holds a Master’s degree in Law and has been involved in human rights activities since 2001. He has led successful advocacy campaigns in the field of the protection of religious freedom, both at the national and international levels. He has co-authored several dozen bills and amendments to laws aimed at protecting and developing religious freedom in Ukraine. Additionally, he has written academic articles on the topic of church – state interactions. In 2019, he was a fellow of the Religion and Rule of Law program, organized by the International Center for Law and Religious Studies at the University of Oxford.,


Oleksandra Matviychuk is the Chairman of the Board of the Center for Civil Liberties.


Oleksandra Matviichuk is a human rights defender who works on issues in Ukraine and the OSCE region. At present, she heads the human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, and coordinates the work of the initiative group Euromaidan SOS. The activities of the Center for Civil Liberties aim to protect human rights and establish democracy in Ukraine and the OSCE region. The organization develops legislative changes, exercises public oversight over law enforcement agencies and judiciary, conducts educational activities for young people and implements international solidarity programs.


The Euromaidan SOS initiative group was created in response to the brutal dispersal of a peaceful student rally in Kyiv on 30 November 2013. During three months of mass protests, known as the Revolution of Dignity, several thousand volunteers provided round-the-clock legal aid and other assistance to persecuted people throughout the country. Since the end of the protests and beginning of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the initiative has been monitoring political persecution in occupied Crimea, documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity during the hybrid war in the Donbas. Additionally, it has been conducting the #LetMyPeopleGo and #SaveOlegSentsov international campaigns to release political prisoners detained by the Russian authorities.


Oleksandra Matviichuk has experience in creating horizontal structures to facilitate mass involvements of people in human rights activities against attacks on rights and freedoms, as well as in documenting violations during armed conflict. She is the author of a number of alternative reports to various UN bodies, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the OSCE and the International Criminal Court.


In 2016, she received the Democracy Defender Award for “Exclusive Contribution to Promoting Democracy and Human Rights” from missions to the OSCE. In 2017, she became the first woman to participate in the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program of Stanford University.,

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJIAN: Erdogan’s victory in Nagorno-Karabakh

The Yerevan parliament stormed and violence outside the home of Prime Minister Pašinyan. Baku celebrates with victory parades. Turkey and Russia are moving towards the “Syrian model” of joint territorial control. 10 Iljušin-76 aircraft are ready to carry the troops of the “peacemakers”. In all, about 2000 soldiers will be deployed.


By Vladimir Rozanskij (11.11.2020) – – The peace agreement reached yesterday between Armenia and Azerbaijian, with Russian mediation, is being seen as a surrender by the Armenians, and a strategic victory for Turkey, which has obtained its goal: Access to the the South Caucasus as a protagonist. Victory parades took place in the streets of Baku, while the Armenians stormed their parliament and government buildings in Yerevan.


10 Iljušin-76 aircraft have already landed in Russia to transport the “peacemaker” troops. In all, about 2000 soldiers, 80 armoured vehicles and 380 means of transport with specialized technologies for territorial control will be deployed.


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also stated that the peace mission in Nagorno Karabakh will be composed of mixed forces, Russian and Turkish. Turkey had engaged several foreign mercenaries in the conflict, ISIS fighters in Syria, who are likely to remain on the territory. Although Turkey did not take part directly in the negotiations, Ankara has appropriated victory. Turkish foreign minister Mevljut Chavushoglu has declared “Azerbaijan has achieved great success on the battlefield and at the negotiations table of the, and I wholeheartedly congratulate you on this success”.


The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pašinyan said he accepted the agreement “with great suffering”, even if in fact the Armenians still achieved a significant result, retaining a crucial part of the Armenian-majority territory recaptured already 20 years ago and declared “the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, with the exclusion of the city of Shusha.


Pašinyan’s major efforts are aimed at persuading his compatriots that “this is not a defeat”, because the pacts signed were the only way to keep control over the city of Stepanakert and the Lachinsk corridor. “I kneel before our dead, and I bow to all our soldiers … with their sacrifice they have saved the Armenians of Artsakh,” the premier wrote on Facebook, using the Armenian name of Karabakh.


The status quo achieved is not the one indicated for some time in the OECD’s “Minsk agreements”, under the supervision of Russia, France and the United States, but the one established by Russia, which has taken all responsibility for the agreement upon itself, and which assigns a much larger territory to Azerbaijan than that of the Minsk text. The city of Shusha and its surroundings, moreover, had already been lost by the Armenians since November 5: this was revealed by the president of the Armenian republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), Araik Arutjunyan, and on November 7 the Armenian forces had totally abandoned the city.


Armenians angry at the agreement attacked the president of parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan, who was beaten by demonstrators after pulling him out of the car he was trying to flee in. The residence of Prime Minister Pašinyan was also attacked and sacked; the prime minister of last year’s “flower revolution” is today overwhelmed by criticism from all political and social formations in the country, including the Apostolic Church of katholikos Karekin II. Pašinyan defended himself by claiming that he had to rush to the negotiating table, after “those who want my resignation had withdrawn from Shusha the previous days”.


However, the peace agreements appear rather fragile; Azerbaijani President Aliev has repeatedly stated that he wants to take back all of Nagorno Karabakh, and in all likelihood he will wait for the right moment to resume the conflict, as the signed pact lacks a long-term perspective. A new political crisis is also expected in Armenia, with the attempt to influence or replace Pašinyan. Turkey and Russia seem to concur on applying the “Syrian model” of joint control of the territory, where rather than peacekeeping forces, real armies will rule.


IRAN: Tehran frees 157 prisoners convicted of security offenses

Those released include Nasrin Sotoudeh, who tested positive for the coronavirus. The amnesty provision, granted by Khamenei for the anniversary of Muhammad’s birth, relates to 3,780 prisoners. This is the most important mass release of citizens indicted for conspiracy offenses. (11.11.2020) – – The Iranian judiciary yesterday afternoon announced the pardon of 157 prisoners accused of “security” offenses, in the context of a broader amnesty provision granted by the supreme leader, the great ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


The decision dates back to last week, coinciding with the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. According to the spokesman for the judges Gholamhossein Esmaili, on the occasion the authorities cancelled or reduced the terms of the sentence of 3,780 detainees.


Among those who benefited from pardon, Esmaili continues, there are ” 157 convicted of propaganda against the state, illegal gathering, collusion against national security, or participation in the riots”. Analysts and experts point out that it is the most important mass release of prisoners charged with crimes of opinion, linked to protests or demonstrations of dissent.


In announcing the measure, the spokesman for the judiciary has repeatedly referred to people detained for participating in the 2017 and 2019 protests against a devastating economic crisis, exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the outgoing US President Donald Trump. In particular, the demonstrations in November last year, triggered by extortionate fuel costs, resulted in the deaths of at least 304 Iranians, most of whom were shot to death by the security forces.


In recent weeks, Tehran has released thousands of prisoners in the context of measures taken to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which in the Islamic Republic has recorded the highest number of victims and infections among the nations of the Middle East. In the past, prisoners for conspiracy offenses or related to street protests were largely excluded from the measures in spite of appeals launched by the UN and human rights NGOs.


Over the past 18 months, says Esmaili, “Iran has forgiven or anticipated the terms of release for 20,000 prisoners”. Among those who have been released in recent days is the activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, for weeks on a hunger strike to raise awareness of the risks for detainees in times of pandemic. According to the latest information, the activist would test positive for the molecular swab confirming the massive circulation of the virus in prisons.


UKRAINE: Anti-corruption update

Outrageous decision of Constitutional Court dismantles corruption prevention system.


By Tetiana Shevchuk


Kyiv Post (03.11.2020) – – On Oct. 27, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) adopted the decision on the unconstitutionality of the system of electronic assets declarations, criminal liability for false statements in declarations, and powers of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP). In fact, the decision means the abolition of the system of asset declaration disclosure of public officials and destroying a significant part of the anti-corruption achievements of the Revolution of Dignity. The decision was adopted with 11 votes.


The analysis of the decision indicates that the CCU went beyond the constitutional appeal and in fact violated the Constitution of Ukraine. The constitutional review was initiated by pro-Russian and oligarchic forces and was considered in record time. This decision can in no way be considered independent, as there is every reason to say that the judges of the CCU acted in their own interests, because of the fact of their own violation of the anti-corruption legislation which they repealed.


The CCU justified its decision in a way that it will be impossible to reinstall criminal liability for false statements in asset declarations back to the Criminal Code as the CCU justifies that such an offense should not be a subject of criminal penalty at all. As for the rest of the provisions, the CCU does not provide for the justification of the unconstitutionality of most of the rest abolished provisions. Any Parliament’s attempts to reintroduce those provisions back to the legislation will result in the CCU striking them out again. The CCU’s decision also makes impossible further judicial reform already agreed by Ukraine with the international partners and established within the International Monetary Fund program and macro-financial agreement with the European Union. The CCU states that only the judicial body either can perform any checks on judges or exercise control over them, thus making impossible establishment of independent expert bodies trusted with integrity checks of High Qualification Commission of Judges and High Council of Judges, which has been agreed as the basis of judicial reform.


The decision created the deadlock which provoked a constitutional crisis as there is a real risk that with any consequent decision the CCU will further dismantle the constitutional order and recent reform achievements. Thus, on October 29, the Security and Defence Council adopted the decision to declare the CCU decision void and dissolve the current composition of the court. Following it, the President submitted the relevant draft law to the Parliament. This is a political solution to resolve the situation, protect the constitutional order, and anti-corruption reform. At the same time, the draft law lacks new procedures to guarantee the fair and transparent selection of new judges of the CCU. Adopting such provisions would be crucial for reinstalling public trust in the CCU and rule of law.


Zelensky finally promises to liquidate Kyiv District Administrative Court


On Oct. 28, President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the e-petition to launch a liquidation of the notorious Kyiv District Administrative Court, which gained the necessary 25,000+ votes. He promised to submit the respective draft law to the Parliament following the consultations with the High Council of Justice. The latter is an obligatory step required by the legislation.


It is worth noting, that on Oct.  26, the KDAC made another illegal and controversial decision. The court ordered to illegally dismiss NABU director Artem Sytnyk and launch a criminal investigation into his actions.


SAPO’s head Selection Commission approves the rules of the procedure


On Oct. 29, the Commission for the Selection of the Head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (Commission) continued its work. It elected the Chairman and the Secretary (both are nominees of parliamentary group “For the Future”). The Commission has determined that it will make all decisions by a qualified majority of 7 votes, of which 5 members should be delegates of the Parliament and 2 members should be delegates of the Council of Prosecutors. Such a procedure will allow taking into account the voices of international experts.


HACC revokes the illegal closure of Rotterdam+ investigation


On Oct. 27, following AntAC’s appeal, the High Anti-Corruption Court canceled the illegal closure of the criminal investigation on the “Rotterdam+” case committed by SAPO prosecutor Vitaliy Ponomarenko. However, the case will still not have a chance to be properly investigated if Ponomarenko remains the prosecutor. Now only Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who has previously refused to review and overturn his blatantly illegal decision to close the case, can replace a biased prosecutor.

Photo: An activist throws condoms at the Constitutional Court during a rally demanding the judges come resign after their controversial ruling on the anti-graft laws in Kyiv, on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Volodymyr Petrov.

Media coverage of the constitutional crisis