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NEW YORK (June 24, 2024) — In late May, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the Human Rights Center Viasna (Viasna) submitted a joint petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) on behalf of well-known Belarusian pro-democracy activist Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk.

In January 2021, security forces arrested Sharenda-Panasiuk in her home in Brest, Belarus, for disobeying police officers’ demands. Moments earlier, the officers broke into her apartment with a search warrant issued based on suspected defamation and insults against government officials. In June 2021, she was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the president and government officials and using or threatening to use violence against an employee of the internal affairs bodies. In April 2022 and October 2023, while in detention, she was sentenced each time to another year in prison for disobeying the penal colony’s internal regulations.

“Palina is a prisoner of conscience, detained for defending democracy and exercising her freedom of expression. The regime continues to retaliate against her through cruel detention conditions and further sentences for violating the penal colony’s regulations, like the frivolous ‘sleeping while sitting on the floor’ and ‘performing physical exercises lying on the floor at a prohibited time,’” HRF Senior Legal Associate Venla Stang said. “Having been detained for more than three years to date, Palina must be immediately released, along with hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in Belarus.” 

Before her arrest, Sharenda-Panasiuk was the regional coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign, advocating for civil and political rights and free and fair elections and criticizing Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule.

Since her arrest, she has been repeatedly transferred from one detention center to another, her whereabouts often unknown; held in unsanitary conditions and in isolation for extensive periods; and frequently deprived of food parcels and adequate medical treatment. She has also been denied the right to communicate with her family throughout her detention. 

Sharenda-Panasiuk has been denied basic due process, as the regime failed to bring her before a court promptly upon her arrest, denied her right to be present in detention hearings, limited her access to an attorney, and tried her in closed-door trials before courts lacking independence. 

“Repression in Belarus has not ended; it has been routinized. The story of Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk is the story of one of the many women imprisoned in Belarus for political activism and the courage to speak out,” Sviatlana Halauneva, a Viasna lawyer, said. “The uniqueness of Palina’s story is that she continues to defend her rights and speaks out even in prison, realizing how severe the consequences can be.”

Despite this, she fearlessly exercises her freedom of expression to demand democracy. HRF and Viasna call on the UNWGAD to investigate Palina’s case, determine that her detention is arbitrary and violates international law, and request that Belarus release her immediately.

Supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.