The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has expressed deep concern about the confiscation of the Minsk office of a human rights organization called Vyasna (Spring) on Monday.
"Viasna [Vyasna] has been one of the few sources of independent information out of Belarus and a host to others seeking to improve the human rights situation in the country, exactly the type of activity that Belarus should welcome not close off," Matteo Mecacci, chairman of the OSCE PA Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, says in a statement issued on Wednesday. "I deeply regret the government has closed this office, but hope their important work will continue. This week's action against Viasna adds to the decision made one year ago, when authorities sentenced Viasna's chairman, human rights activist Alex Bialatski [Ales Byalyatski], to prison on tax evasion charges."
Vyasna has played an important role in keeping Belarusians and the international community informed about the human rights situation in the country where press freedom and freedom of expression remain minimal, Mr. Mecacci says. The now-closed office had frequently served as a safe place for activists in Belarus to host press conferences about human rights violations or other activities, he says.
Mr. Mecacci expresses concern that the confiscation of Vyasna's office will make it harder for Belarus to uphold its OSCE commitments. He calls on the authorities to make concrete steps forward in this regard, starting at the OSCE Ministerial Council next week.
In November 2011, Mr. Byalyatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and the confiscation of property, including the apartment that housed the office.