Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English
As part of Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights’ #WeStandBYyou solidarity campaign, Cem Özdemir has become a godparent for imprisoned Belarusian journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich.
Since the rigged presidential election in Belarus in August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country. The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of ruler Lukashenka and new democratic elections. The ruling regime is reacting to the peaceful protests with massive violence and more than 30,000 arrests. More than 150 long-term political prisoners have been in jail for months. Hundreds of cases of torture and ill-treatment have now been documented.
Due to the massive wave of state repression, Libereco launched the campaign #WeStandBYyou at the beginning of July to express solidarity with all people in Belarus who are committed to free and fair elections, the democratisation of the country, the rule of law as well as the respect for human rights.
The Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, Katarina Barley and Nicola Beer, the former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, the Vice-President of the German Bundestag, Claudia Roth, and the former President of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz, are among those calling for the release of political prisoners.
In addition to 63 Members of the German Bundestag and 21 Members of the European Parliament from Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, 16 Members of the national parliaments of Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland have also taken on prisoner’s godparenthood.
Cem Özdemir, Member of the Bundestag and former long-time leader of Alliance 90/The Greens, is the 100th MP who takes over a godparenthood for political prisoners in Belarus, symbolically adopting journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich.
Katsiaryna Barysevich. Photo: tut.by
Katsiaryna Barysevich is a reporter for the independent information platform TUT.BY, which is one of the 5 most popular websites in Belarus. She was detained on 19 November under Article 178 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for allegedly violating medical secrecy. The background is a report by her on the murder of Raman Bandarenka, who was beaten to death in Minsk on 11 November. The Belarusian authorities claim that Bandarenka was under the influence of alcohol. However, the doctor who examined him could not find any alcohol in his blood and was quoted with this statement by Barysevich in her article. The journalist has since been detained in the KGB investigative prison in Minsk.
Belarusian and international human rights organisations strongly condemn the ongoing detention of Katsiaryna Barysevich and numerous other journalists, bloggers and operators of independent social media information channels. Since the Belarusian presidential election on 9 August, more than 450 cases of violations of press freedom have been counted. There have been over 370 arrests of media representatives, and over 60 cases of violence, abuse or torture against media workers have been documented.
Cem Özdemir explains his commitment:
“For months, the Lukashenka regime has been conducting state terror. Tens of thousands of people have already been unjustly arrested and have had traumatising experiences that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. My godparenthood for Katsiaryna Barysevich is therefore anything but an occasion for joy. But I hope that with my godparenthood I can once again draw more attention to the dramatic situation in Belarus. And I hope that I can show Katsiaryna Barysevich that we in Germany continue to watch this situation closely and show solidarity.
The death of Raman Bandarenka at the hands of the state is a particularly appalling example of the brutality and contempt for humanity of the Lukashenka regime. It is invaluable that courageous journalists like Katsiaryna Barysevich bring the truth to light. The fact that they have to pay for this with their freedom is unacceptable – neither in a European country like Belarus nor in any other country in the world. The dramatic restrictions on press freedom in recent months show how much Lukashenko fears independent journalism. Dictators are not only brutal and dangerous, they are also pathetic. And the developments in Belarus show that no dictator in this world is firmly in the saddle. It is only a matter of time before democratic movements chase them from their pathetic thrones.
Cem Özdemir, Member of the Bundestag
The impunity for the regime’s crimes particularly shocks me – although it is not surprising that Lukashenko holds his hand over those who keep the regime alive. Belarusian civil society deeply impresses me in this crisis with its peaceful, creative and powerful methods. It systematically collects evidence of torture and other crimes on the basis of which Lukashenka’s henchmen can be investigated in the new Belarus and abroad. Lithuania is already investigating torturers according to the principle of universal jurisdiction. Germany should also take the lead here and engage more to ensure that the regime is held accountable.
Katsiaryna Barysevich is one of many impressive women who have driven change in Belarus. In times of violence and state terror, the trio of Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouskaya and Tsepkala made sisterhood and empathy their political maxim. Lukashenka’s patriarchal blindness has led him to greatly underestimate women in Belarus. Even if the tyrant has not – yet – vacated his throne, it is clear that the Lukashenka era will sooner or later be history. The Belarusian women have contributed significantly to the peaceful and creative nature of the protest. My greatest appreciation goes to them and to the entire democracy movement. The Belarusian democratic opposition more than deserves the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize.
Only the release of all political prisoners and new elections monitored by the OSCE can bring peace and security to Belarus. Only then will the people of Belarus finally experience the democratic rights for which they are fighting so hard. They have my admiration and solidarity. Therefore, I demand: Freedom for Katsiaryna Barysevich and all other political prisoners in Belarus!”