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An Open Letter to the Ice Hockey Federation on Repression in Belarus
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May 14, 2014
President René Fasel, DMD
International Ice Hockey Federation
Dear President Fasel:
Two years ago this week, we wrote an open letter to you urging the International Ice Hockey Federation to reconsider its decision to allow Belarus to hold the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship (IHWC). Our fear was that the chance to host such a significant sporting event would allow authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka to gain legitimacy on the international stage, effectively excusing twenty years of egregious violations of human and civil rights under his regime. Unfortunately, the decision was made to keep the event in Minsk, and pro-democracy activists in Belarus are suffering the consequences.
Today, we write to inform you that 32 members of Belarusian opposition and civil society organizations have been placed under preventative arrest to prevent them from being seen or heard during the IHWC. They were detained for attempting to exercise their internationally-recognized rights to freedom of assembly and expression, which the Belarusian government describes as “petty hooliganism” or “disobeying police.” Human rights organizations have long decried preventative detention as politically motivated and contrary to international law. Nevertheless, Lukashenka’s regime continues this practice. Among its current victims are:
- Zmicer Dashkevich, leader of the Young Front organization and a former political prisoner. Released in August 2013, he was placed under the so-called “preventative supervision” that political prisoners are routinely subject to upon release. On April 24, 2014, police arrested Dashkevich without explanation at his home and placed him overnight in a cold concrete cell, despite health issues caused by his prison term. He was sentenced to 25 days detention for allegedly violating the terms of his supervision.
- Aliaksandr Frantskevich, a socialist activist and former political prisoner freed in September 2013. On April 25, 2014, he was detained in Minsk by plainclothes police who failed to identify themselves and did not explain the basis for Frantskevich's arrest. At the police station, they alleged he was guilty of swearing (“petty hooliganism”) and disobeying police – charges that seem clearly fabricated. He was sentenced to 25 days arrest.
- Yury Rubtsou, a civil activist from the city of Homel. In November 2013, he was arrested and sentenced to three days detention for wearing a shirt with an inscription calling for Lukashenka to resign, at a rally in Minsk. On April 26, 2014, Rubtsou was detained by unknown men in plainclothes for wearing a similar shirt at event marking the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster – a topic that Lukashenka's government does not like to discuss. He was charged with disobeying police and petty hooliganism.Police confiscated his shirt and forced him to remain in a painful stretched position for three hours in a cold cell. Rubtsou is currently serving a 25-day jail term. He has declared a hunger strike in protest, to continue for the remainder of his time in custody.
More information on these and the other 29 individuals detained throughout the country is available from the Viasna Human Rights Center – the foremost human rights organization in Belarus, and one that is banned by the government.
As you know, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Statutes and Bylaws state that it rejects “harassment, abuse or violence in any of its many forms, and particularly where people in positions of responsibility unfairly
exercise their power and authority over others” in respect to players in Member National Associations.
We call upon the IIHF to recognize that this championship is in fact taking place in an environment of harassment, abuse, and violence, where—more than in any other country in Europe—the leadership unfairly wields power and authority over others.
We thus also call on the IIHF to demand that President Lukashenka stop using the game of hockey as an excuse violate the basic human rights of Belarusian citizens, and to join us in our demand that all 32 arrestees, as well as Belarus’s 8 long-term political prisoners, be immediately released.
David J. Kramer
President, Freedom House