After political opposition and the media, Belarusian dictator is shutting down the NGOs

30.8.2021 - PRAGUE / MINSK
Marina Dubina, one of the Ecohome activists repeatedly persecuted
PHOTO: Majda Slámová / Arnika

Environmental non-governmental sector, belonging to the most active parts of Belarusian civil society for years, is disappearing. Since July, the regime has been looking for excuses for an administrative ban on their activities. Well known organization Center for Environmental Solutions was recently abolished. Ecohome is facing lawsuits and their members are under the threat of arrest. After brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations after stolen elections, liquidation of the political opposition and the media, dictator Lukashenko is dismantling other clusters of the civil society.

“We have worked with Ecohome and the Center for Environmental Solutions for many years. Not only professionals work in these organizations, but also very courageous and brave people. Some of them have defended the right of Belarusians to a healthy environment for most of their lives and have made a significant contribution to the creation of civil society in a regime that, by its very nature, has never supported involvement in public affairs. After the political opposition and the independent media, now also environmental activists need more support than ever. Although the regime formally destroys their organizations, problems remain and we believe that their irreplaceable activity does not end with repression,” says Martin Skalsky, chairman of the Czech NGO Arnika.

In July, three environmental activists were persecuted for their work – Maria Voytovich from Borovaya district, Aliaksand Kapicki from Molodechno and executive director of Ecohome Marina Dubina were arrested, detained or searched.

As expressed in the letter of Ecohome (1) to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2), the offices of the non-governmental organizations were searched and their documents seized recently. On July 2, the Ministry of Justice started a revision of formal documents and requested 1,124 pages of documentation within a week. As a result, the ministry stated that Ecohome illegally cooperates with unregistered organizations and filed a claim to the Supreme Court for the liquidation of Ecohome. The organization submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, but the activists do not believe much in seeking justice.

On July 23, the Minks City Executive Committee announced the liquidation of another NGO – Center for Environmental Solutions (3) that was one of the most active environmental organizations since 2009. Ecohome belongs to the oldest NGOs in Belarus, established in 1996.

Persecution of environmental activists in Belarus intensified since spring 2020, when mass protests against the battery plant in Brest started (4). They became the largest civic protests for the last many years. Later, leaders of Ecohome were arrested for fictitious offenses (5). The real reason was probably their involvement in the campaign against construction and launch of the nuclear power plant in Astravets close to Lithuanian borders, financed by Russia.


Notes:

1) We can share the letter “Additional information on situation in Belarus concerning persecution of environmental activists and NGOs” with you upon your request.

2) The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the 'Environment for Europe' process. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. Details on the Convention: https://www.unece.org/env/pp/introduction.html

3) More on the liquidation of the Center for Environmental Solutions in their article “What we have done and what lies ahead”: https://ecoidea.by/en/article/4806

4) Stop activists persecution - Brest activists under arrest for protests against battery factory: https://stop-persecution.org/resurgence-of-activist-persecution-in-belarus-brest-activists-under-arrest

5) Case of Irina Sukhy - Belarus authorities exploiting the political turmoil to persecute environmental activists: https://stop-persecution.org/arrest-of-irina-sukhy  

Case of Marina Dubina - Arnika repeatedly calls for an end to the persecution in Belarus: https://stop-persecution.org/marina-dubina-from-ecohome-imprisoned  

Case of Alena Dubovik - ‘Green Telephone’ operator Alena Dubovik was sentenced to 15 days in prison: https://stop-persecution.org/green-telephone-operator-alena-dubovik-sentenced-to-15-days-in-prison  

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