13 August 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chair of the NGO For Human Rights and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
The situation in Belarus is being made far worse by the fact that the authorities are trying to stop the spread of objective information: the Internet is being blocked, and journalists, bloggers and observers are being subjected to harsh violence – detentions and beatings. People are literally disappearing; they are incommunicado.
As luck would have it, we know about the arrest of Artem Vazhenkov, a Russian citizen, because he was in a video broadcast on state-run TV channels. But how many Russians are there who weren’t caught on camera?
We demand that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Russia’s governmental human rights institutions unequivocally condemn the violence against peaceful civilians – not only residents of the Republic of Belarus, but also citizens from Russia and other countries who are legally in the country.
We also demand the compilation of a full list of every Russian detained (not only journalists), and the protection of their rights and legal interests, especially against violence and criminal charges that serve Lukashenko’s absurd statements about the organisation of mass protests by Russian citizens.
Here is the text of my appeal to the Human Rights Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation T. N. Moskalkova:
Dear Tatiana Nikolaevna,
I implore you to urgently intervene in the situation with Russian citizen Artem Vazhenkov, who has been detained in the Republic of Belarus, and demand his release.
Artem Vazhenkov, who has experience of working as an observer in Russia, travelled to Minsk to follow the elections in Belarus. He was violently detained and beaten along with thousands of other citizens, including Russian journalists, simply for being outside on the street. Photographs of Vazhenkov being beaten have been circulated on the Internet.
I have unverified information that all Russian citizens except Artem Vazhenkov have now been released from detention. According to Vazhenkov’s lawyer, information has emerged that he is to be transferred to a pre-trial detention centre and charged with organising riots. Under this article, he could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
I implore you also to ask the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Embassy in Belarus to allow Russian diplomats to visit Artem Vashenkov at the detention centre as soon as possible and facilitate his release.
Chair of the NGO For Human Rights,
Member of the Expert Council of the federal Human Rights Ombudsman
Translated by Nicky Brown