On January 5, 2023, Minsk Municipal Court convicted the political prisoners and leaders of the Belarusian independent trade unions: the former head of the Belarusian Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers’ Trade Union (REM) Mr. Henadz Fiadynich, the leader of Orša Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers’ Trade Union (REM) and a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Mr. Vasil Berasnieu, and Belarusian Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers’ Trade Union (REM) activist Mr. Viachaslau (Vatslau) Areshka. The court qualified their actions as “calls for restrictive measures, aimed at causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus” (part 3 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code), “incitement of social hatred” (part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code), and “establishment of an extremist formation or participation in it” (parts 1 and 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code).
Mr. Fiadynich, 66, and Mr. Berasnieu, 73, were sentenced to nine years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony, while Mr. Areshka, 68, received eight 8 years in a general-security penal colony. All convicts are pensioners. It is also known that Mr. Berasnieu’s health deteriorated significantly during his previous jail term. And he suffers from severe pain in the other one. One of his kidneys was removed because of cancer
On December 26, 2022, another three trade union activists were convicted by the same court: the chairperson of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) Mr. Aliaksandr Yarashuk, his deputy Mr. Siarhei Antusevich, and the accountant Ms. Iryna Bud-Husaim, who were detained on April 19, 2022. They were accused of “actions that grossly violate public order” under part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, and Mr. Yarashuk was also accused of “calling for restrictive measures and other actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus” under part 3 of Articles 361). As a result, Mr. Yarashuk was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony, Mr. Antusevich received 24 months in jail, and Ms. Bud-Husaim was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
We consider the sentences imposed on Mr. Fiadynich, Mr. Berasnieu, and Mr. Areshka with horrible jail terms to be political retaliation for their peaceful actions to protect the Belarusian workers using national and international instruments and for expressing their independent position regarding violations of workers’ rights in Belarus after the presidential elections of 2020.
According to the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, almost four dozen trade union activists and democratic trade unions leaders are currently imprisoned in Belarus, including:
Mr. Mikhail Hromau, former chair of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) and former deputy chair of the REM;
Mr. Vital Chychmarou, former head of the primary organization of the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers (SPM);
Mr. Miraslavau Sabchuk, an independent trade union activist;
Ms. Yanina Malash, SPM activist; and
Mr. Aliaksandr Mishuk, vice-chair of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, chairman of the primary trade union organization of Belaruskali, and others.
We emphasize that the Republic of Belarus, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has undertaken to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The actions of the Belarusian authorities in relation to members of independent trade unions constitute a violation of Article 22 of the Covenant, in particular of the right to freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests.
Moreover, such actions could also be qualified as a violation of Article 2 of ILO Convention No. 87, which provides that workers shall have the right to establish and to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization, and Article 11, which provides that the state undertakes to take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that workers and employers may exercise freely the right to organize.
It is noteworthy that on November 8, 2022, the International Labor Organization (ILO) decided to apply Article 33 of the ILO Constitution to Belarus due to systematic violations against workers and trade unions and disregard of ILO recommendations for more than 17 years. This is only the second case in the more than 100-year history of the ILO after the application of such extreme measures to Myanmar in 2000, which once again emphasizes the exceptional gravity of violations of trade union rights by the Belarusian authorities.
In this regard, we, Belarusian human rights organizations, demand that the Belarusian authorities:
cancel the sentences and release members of independent trade unions,
stop violating the right to freedom of association and comply with their international human rights obligations,
stop violating the right to freedom of association and comply with their international human rights obligations, and
engage in a constructive dialogue with the ILO and respond adequately to the questions and recommendations of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and the Committee of Experts on the Application of ILO Standards.
We call on international trade union organizations, other nongovernmental organizations from various countries of the world, and international institutions to continue to show solidarity with Belarusian civil society organizations and to respond to the situation of ongoing human rights violations in the country.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights Center Viasna
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Human Constanta PEN Belarus