Pratasevich: UN experts will examine the arbitrary detention of journalist

Last week seven human rights organisations submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the case of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich.

Mr Pratasevich has been held in arbitrary and inhuman conditions since 23 May 2021. Unfortunately, it is not possible to achieve justice and accountability in the journalist’s case at the national level. Therefore, seven organisations turned to the UN human rights system, requesting the expert body to declare his detention arbitrary.

The detention of Raman Pratasevich is emblematic of the Lukashenka regime’s unbridled repression of dissenting voices in the country. Pratasevich was arbitrarily detained by Belarusian authorities on 23 May 2021, when Ryanair flight FR4978 was diverted and forced to land at Minsk National Airport. After the hijacking of his flight by Belarusian authorities, Mr Pratasevich was taken off the tarmac. After this, he was instantly put into KGB custody and held on trumped up charges for his journalistic activities and held incommunicado.

According to Mr Pratasevich’s parents, Raman has been subjected to physical violence and/or psychological pressure in detention. In addition to this, he has been forced to make false confessions on Belarusian state media. His access to independent and confidential legal and medical assistance has been restricted to the point of being ineffective. On 25 June 2021, the Belarusian authorities announced that Pratasevich and his partner, Sophia Sapega, had been transferred to “house arrest”. This is, however, a misnomer. Mr Pratasevich is held in an unknown location where he has no freedom of movement and his communications are restricted. Furthermore, he is supervised by live-in KGB guards, and he has no effective means of challenging his prosecution.

This dubbed “house arrest” continues to constitute arbitrary detention. Raman Pratasevich is facing charges of organizing mass riots and inciting social hatred. Prior to his arrest, Belarus had placed him on its “terrorist” list and sought his extradition.

Submission to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council. It has the mandate to investigate cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with international human rights standards. The groups communications procedure provides an opportunity for an independent assessment of individual cases. This is essential in Raman Pratasevich’s case.

In their joint submission, the organisations claim that Pratasevich is a victim of Lukashenka’s campaign of repression against critics and opponents of his regime. They also clam that Pratasevich’s arrest was a reprisal for his legitimate journalistic activities. The organisations argue that the ongoing detention of Pratasevich constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty. This is stated in category I, II, III and V of the criteria established by the group itself.

Upon receiving the complaint, the group will invite the Belarusian government to comment on the alleged violations of Pratasevich’s rights within 60 days. Following this, the Working Group will provide an authoritative assessment of the regime’s attack on independent journalism.

The organisations submitting the complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention include: Global Diligence, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Reporters without Borders, the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), Article 19, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR).

Update: the UN expert body has reviewed Mr Pratasevich´s case. Read about their opinion here.