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Searches targeting human rights defenders in Belarus of utmost concern, OSCE human rights head says

Following a wave of concerted police searches of human rights activists throughout Belarus today, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) voices its utmost concern and calls on the Belarusian authorities to respect the rights of those who seek to protect the rights of their fellow citizens and not to criminalize their legitimate human rights work.

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WARSAW, 16 February 2021 – “Human rights defenders in Belarus have long played an important role in promoting the rights of their fellow citizens, despite many challenges.

It is therefore very concerning to read reports of what seems to be a concerted effort by the Belarusian authorities to investigate and intimidate them, in connection to the peaceful protests that have been taking place in Belarus for many months. I call on the authorities in Belarus to respect the rights of human rights defenders in line with its OSCE commitments,” said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci.

As well as reports that police have broken into homes to confiscate documents and equipment belonging to human rights defenders across the country, reports also indicated that a number have been detained, while the whereabouts of several defenders is unknown.

ODIHR continues to call for the release of citizens who have been detained while exercising their rights in recent months and the investigation and prosecution of all those responsible for documented human rights abuses.

ODIHR has raised its concerns about the worsening human rights situation in Belarus since the presidential election of 9 August 2020. All countries across the OSCE region have recognized the need to protect human rights defenders as their work is instrumental to safeguarding human rights and strengthen the democratic process, and have also committed to upholding the right to freedom of peaceful assembly both in law and practice.

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