Since April 2022 the Belarusian government has been carrying out systematic repression against independent trade unions in Belarus. Till now three dozen trade unionists have been sentenced to 64 years in prison and 12.5 years of restricted freedom. The Belarusian authorities constantly call independent trade unions 'extremists' and 'Western agents' and conduct smear campaigns, making it clear that anyone associated with the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its organizations, runs the risk of being prosecuted. The Belarusian authorities have so far failed to grant access for a humanitarian visit to imprisoned trade union activists in order to clarify the conditions of their arrest and detention. ITUC has appealed to ILO to engage.
Since the raids against the unions, the government of Belarus has continued to carry out a series of trials against trade unionists, with several having already received long-term prison sentences, while others continue to be held in custody over several months, deprived contacts with their colleagues and fellow unionists. At least 31 trade union leaders and activists are today illegally imprisoned at the moment, of whom several already have been sentenced to years in jail. In addition there are around 1400 other human rights defenders and political prisoners.
Over the past two years, hundreds of leaders, activists and rank and file members of democratic trade unions, part of BKDP that received the Arthur Svensson award in 2021, have passed through pretrial detention centers. And over the past year, dozens of leaders have been arrested on criminal charges and sentenced for years. In total, three dozen trade unionists were sentenced to 64 years in prison and 12.5 years of restricted freedom. It should be added that this is without taking into account the activists who are going through the “Rabochy Rukh” case; they are facing huge terms of up to 15 years. With such actions, the regime is taking revenge on the activists of the trade union movement for their participation in the 2020 popular protests.
Administrative arrest is also used as a form of revenge. Even such short-term imprisonment is used as a form of physical and psychological torture today. So, according to fabricated articles, the leader of the trade union organization at JSC “Naftan”Volha Brytsikava was kept behind bars for 75 days. Each time they extended the term of arrest, inventing offenses for her. Volha is not the only woman being persecuted for her trade union activities. The deputy head of the REP trade union Zinaida Mikhniuk received a long prison term - 2.5 years in prison. Yanina Malash, deputy chairperson of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), received 1.5 years in prison, as did the accountant of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), Iryna But-Husaim.
Aliaksandr Mishuk, the vice-chairperson of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union,will spend 2.5 years in prison, and Andrey Khanevich , the leader of the primary organization of the BNP at JSC “Hrodna Azot”, will spend 5 years under strict regime. The deputy chairperson of the BKDP, Siarhei Antusevich, was separated from his family for 2 years for a photo, which proved his participation in the protest. Some of the leaders of the trade union are already old people. Aliaksandr Yarashuk, the leader of the BKDP, who turned 71 years old, was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Vasil Berasneu, Hennadz Fiadynich and Vatslau Areshka were sentenced to long terms, having serious health problems, which worsened in prison conditions.
To date, more than forty trade union activists have been convicted on criminal charges. Some, like a group of students - members of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB), have already served their sentences and been released. Others, who were sentenced at the end of 2022, are preparing appeals in their cases and are not going to put up with the sentences even while behind bars.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), for the systematic persecution of activists and violations of labour rights, has begun the process of forcing the leadership of the Republic of Belarus through article 33 of its Constitution to fulfill the international obligations assumed by the country. Several dozen European deputies have become “godparents” of imprisoned trade unionists, and international trade union associations are holding campaigns for their release.
On January 18, ITUC Deputy General Secretary Owen Tudor sent an official letter to the new Director-General of the ILO. In his appeal, he spoke about the prosecution and closure of democratic trade unions, as well as the prison sentences received by trade union leaders and activists in Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities have so far failed to grant access for a humanitarian visit to imprisoned trade union activists in order to clarify the conditions of their arrest and detention. ITUC therefore urges ILO to call on the Belarusian government to allow the ILO to urgently visit imprisoned trade union activists, including Aliaksandr Yarashuk.
The ITUC also asked the ILO to ask the Government to provide all relevant information concerning the planned appeals and to arrange an ILO visit to observe the court proceedings together with representatives of the employers' and workers' secretariats. And also to bring this information to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and the Governing Body in due course and in the context of the ongoing discussions on the matter.