Reacting to the news that Marfa Rabkova, a human rights defender and coordinator of the NGO Viasna’s Volunteer Service, is facing fresh charges linked to “endangering national security” that could lead up to 20 years in prison for 11 criminal offenses, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:
“Marfa Rabkova’s case epitomizes the horrors currently faced by human rights defenders and the wider civil society in Belarus. Over the last 18 months, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government has effectively outlawed the country’s entire human rights community by imprisoning dozens of human rights activists under spurious charges, closing vast numbers of NGOs and arbitrarily detaining hundreds of peaceful protesters.
Marfa Rabkova’s case epitomizes the horrors currently faced by human rights defenders and the wider civil society in Belarus. Over the last 18 months, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government has effectively outlawed the country’s entire human rights communityMarie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director
“Marfa Rabkova is facing up to 20 years in prison amid an onslaught of obviously baseless, politically-motivated charges when all she has done is stand up for human rights. The secrecy that surrounds her prosecution, however, means we may never know the details of what she has been officially accused of.
“The Belarusian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release not only Marfa Rabkova, but all of her detained colleagues from Viasna and other activists that continue to be arbitrarily detained throughout the country. The relentless persecution of civil society groups in Belarus must end.”
According to a letter Marfa Rabkova sent to her family from jail, the Belarusian authorities have, among other charges, accused her of managing a criminal organization, inciting social hostility, deliberately destructing property, and calling for action that aims to harm national security.
Marfa Rabkova was detained together with her husband Vadzim Zharomski on 17 September 2020. She has been held in pre-trial detention since her arrest.
Seven other staff members from Viasna’s Volunteer Service have also been arrested under vaguely worded charges, two of whom were sentenced to prison following closed-door trials.
Founded in 1996, Viasna is a leading human rights organization in Belarus and has been documenting human rights violations following the August 2020 disputed presidential election. In 2003, the authorities deregistered the organization.