Citizen election observers in Belarus and Russia are currently facing increasing repressions by the governments in Minsk and Moscow.
In the aftermath of the presidential elections in Belarus, on 16 February 2021 numerous human rights defenders, journalists and citizen election observers have been detained, their properties have been searched, and technical equipment was seized. In Minsk, Mahiliou, Vitsebsk and other Belarusian cities, offices of the Human Rights Center (HRC) “Viasna” and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, both members of the citizen election observation initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” and members of the EPDE, as well as the Minsk office of the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists BAJ have been searched. These organizations contributed to the transparency of the past election campaigns in Belarus and are apparently being punished for their systematic and impartial reporting on widespread fraud during the recent presidential election which led to mass protests across the country. “What is happening now is an act of intimidation of journalists and human rights activists," said Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of the HRC Viasna in his commentary to BelaPAN. “It is the logic of repression to first come to politicians, activists, and then to journalists and human rights activists. This was also the case after the [presidential election] in 2010.” Four members of the HRC Viasna, Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepuk, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, are still in custody for their human rights activities along with many other activists, journalists and observers across the country.
“We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all detained human rights activists and election observers”, said Stefanie Schiffer, EPDE chair, on Tuesday in Berlin. “The persecution of independent watchdog organizations and election observers contradicts the international obligations of the Belarusian regime towards the UN and the OSCE”.
Schiffer also criticized the Russian authorities for the increasing pressure on citizen election observers in Russia. “The recent tightening of the so called ‘foreign agent law’ further limits the opportunities of Russian citizens to monitor the political process in the country”, said Schiffer. “Russian authorities perceive citizen election observation as a threat, not least after the post-election events in Belarus”.
Despite the de facto prohibition of independent citizen election monitoring in Russia, the government continues to take harsh action against the domestic election observers in the capital of Moscow and in the Russian regions. In January, members of the Movement Golos, the “Petersburg observer” and other initiatives have again been detained or persecuted. The authorities also continue their attempts to isolate politically engaged citizens from the international civil society. “The Russian government should follow-up on the repeat recommendations of the ODIHR-OSCE and of domestic observers to allow for unrestricted domestic and international election monitoring, especially ahead of the September 2021 parliamentary elections”, said Schiffer. "The intimidation of citizen observers should immediately stop and both passive and active electoral rights of Russian citizens should be ensured”.
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