In Brussels, 5th May 2021 – Today, as we mark the 8th European Independent Living Day, we are calling for the release of Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, from the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Belarus. Both men have been detained for over three months and are facing up to four years in prison for their work defending human rights. They must be cleared of all the charges and allowed to continue the important work of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were detained on February 3, 2021 and taken for questioning to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus. Aleh Hrableuski was placed in pre-trial detention, where he will stay until at least August this year. Siarhei Drazdouski was placed under house arrest and has been deprived of all communication with the outside world, including letters. Prior to that, the Department of Financial Investigations searched the organisation’s office and confiscated all equipment.
At present, Siarhei’s and Aleh’s lawyers are under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). All that is known is that they were charged with fraud, which carries a prison sentence of up to four years. In reality, Siarhei and Aleh are being targeted because the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities helped people access legal assistance, which they needed after participating in protests (referred to as “unauthorized mass events”). Both Siarhei and Aleh have been recognised by the international community as political prisoners.
The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL, the European Disability Forum and the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities, from Ukraine, wrote to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus in February, asking for the immediate release of Siarhei and Aleh from detention, and for all charges to be dropped. Front Line Defenders, the international organisation protecting human rights defenders at risk, has launched urgent appeals for both men. Despite the international attention, the Investigative Committee continues to persecute them.
With this year’s European Independent Living Day dedicated to movement and mobility, it is worth remembering that fighting for the rights of disabled people is dangerous in many parts of the world, and can lead to imprisonment. Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has therefore made disability rights defenders one of the priority groups for her mandate. She has been informed about the case Siarhei and Aleh, as well as that of Ana Kotur-Erkić, whose treatment by the public and the local authorities in Republika Srpska ENIL reported on earlier in the year.
The European Independent Living Day gives us an opportunity to come together and stand in solidarity with all those fighting for the rights of disabled people, and to demand full implementation of Articles 4.3 and 33.3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the General Comment 7, on participation of disabled people in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention .
We therefore call for the following:
- Immediate release of Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski from detention and withdrawal of all charges that are being brought against them;
- Putting in place conditions for the Office for Persons with Disabilities, and other organisations of disabled people, to be able to safely and independently carry out their work to promote the rights of disabled people, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
- Involvement of the EU institutions, the Council of Europe and the international community in the case of Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski, and using any means at their disposal to ensure their release, as well as creating an environment where NGOs can work without state interference and danger of persecution.
Notes for editors:
Siarhei Drazdouski was born on November 24, 1973 in Minsk. Siarhei is a disabled person and a wheelchair user. He graduated from the Belarusian State Technological Institute, and later from the Academy of Management with a degree in jurisprudence. In 1997 he participated in the creation, and in 2001 headed the Association of Wheelchair Users. Since 2006, he has worked in the Belarusian Society of Disabled People. In 2011, he created the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He graduated from the High Courses in Human Rights in Warsaw. He is one of the experts of the Council of Europe and UN organisations.
Aleh Hrableuski was born on August 15, 1976 in Orsha. Has a higher education in jurisprudence. He is an alumni of specialized programs in the field of human rights, including the High Courses in Human Rights (Warsaw). He began his career while studying as a lawyer at the Free Trade Union. At the same time, he worked as a journalist for the independent newspaper “Kutseina”. For more than 20 years, Aleh’s professional activity has been associated with civil society organizations. He provided cooperation and legal support in the consumer protection society, independent trade unions, patient, human rights organizations, for example, the Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend). Since 2017, he has been a lawyer in the free legal office of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a human rights organisation, aimed at changing the understanding of disability in Belarus. The office based its activities on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They raised awareness about disability not being a medical issue, but a barrier in accessing human rights. Belarus has joined the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, inter aliathanks to the enormous work of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For many years, the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been advising disabled people on violations of their rights, advocating for changes in legislation, and conducting educational activities to change attitudes towards disabled people.
Ways to support Siarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski:
Support the urgent appeal for Siarhei by Front Line Defenders: click here
Support the urgent appeal for Aleh by Front Line Defenders: click here
You can also support Aleh by sending him a letter or postcard. His address is: Minsk, Volodarskogo str. 2, 220030, Belarus, for Aleh Glableuski.
Photo shows Aleh Hrableuski and Siarhei Drazdouski.