NEW YORK (January 15, 2021) – Today, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) sent a letter to René Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), requesting that the IIHF Council revoke its decision to have Belarus co-host the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship scheduled for May 21 to June 6, 2021, on account of the massive humanitarian crisis in Europe’s most brutal dictatorship.
Since rigged elections in August, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets to demand free and fair elections. The response of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, has been shockingly brutal. According to Human Rights Centre “Viasna,” more than 33,000 individuals have been detained, including more than 70 professional athletes. Fifteen athletes have received prison sentences, and many more have been fired from their jobs for their support of the demonstrations. More than 1,000 cases of torture have been documented, and at least 7 people have been killed since the beginning of the protests.
“The championship provides Lukashenko’s government with international legitimacy, and gives him the opportunity to portray an image of stability and normalcy,” said HRF chairman Garry Kasparov. “Lukashenko will use the images of packed stadiums to distract from the packed prisons where he tortures anyone who stands up to him.”
Making matters worse, the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation is closely linked to Lukashenko’s regime. Top officials in the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation are close associates of Lukashenko, and are directly involved in the crimes of his regime. For example, Dmitry Baskau, the Head of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation, has been identified as one of the individuals who beat peaceful protester Raman Bandarenka to death in November. The IIHF has already started an investigation into Baskau.
HRF’s letter comes after Fasel paid a controversial visit to Minsk on January 11, where he met both Lukashenko and Baskau, and reassured his hosts that the tournament would go ahead. Prominent Belarusian athlete Alena Leuchanka, the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, and politicians from the European parliament have already urged the IIHF to take the tournament elsewhere.
Kasparov concluded the letter by urging the IIHF to cancel the tournament in Minsk, release a strong statement of support for the Belarusian democracy movement, and embrace the “opportunity to make a hugely influential condemnation of Lukashenko’s regime, and to greatly enhance the cause of freedom in Belarus.”
Read the full text of the letter here.
The Human Rights Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For further comment, please contact [email protected].