I make this statement on behalf of ARTICLE 19 and Belarus Free Theatre. The people of Belarus and I are grateful and look to this body for support in this time of grave need.
The time has come to declare a state of emergency in Belarus – election falsifications, unprecedented police brutality against protestors and journalists, widespread use of torture in places of detention, and repression of the media has become a repeated occurrence over the past 41 days. Artists, poets, actors and theatre makers are jailed for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression. We have seen at least 500 cases of torture, 7 murders and numerous enforced disappearances. Alexander Lukashenko has denied the right to freedom of expression and other human rights for all people in Belarus.
The government has shut down the internet and blocked over 70 independent websites in order to conceal and facilitate grave human rights violations, while journalists and professionals within the IT industry are jailed for standing up to such measures. These measures do not exist in a vacuum, but are purposely imposed to deny the free flow of information at critical times. This Council has explicitly condemned internet shutdowns, and commitments on paper must now be translated into action.
We urge members of this Council to vote in favour of mandating the High Commissioner to closely monitor and report on the human rights situation in order to ensure scrutiny and accountability. We call for a UN monitoring mechanism, as it was requested by my friend and Nobel Laurete on Literaure, Svetlana Alekseevich, who is currently under attack along with other members of the Coordination Council to be deployed to Belarus. Above all, Belarus must be directly urged to immediately lift all restrictions in law and practice on the right to freedom of expression and release all political prisoners, including, but not limited to, journalists, artists, human rights defenders and members of the political opposition.