Statement of Belarusian Human Rights Organizations Regarding Mass Arrests of Attorneys on February 28, 2024

On February 28, 2024, mass arrests of attorneys took place in Belarus. The exact number of those detained and the reasons remain unknown; however, according to human rights defenders' estimates, around 12 attorneys were arrested. Most of them were soon released. The fate of those who were not released remains unknown to us.

Prior to this, simultaneous mass arrests took place on March 20, 2023, when six attorneys that previously defended political prisoners were detained at once. In total, from 2020 until February 28, 2024, at least 23 arrests of attorneys defending political prisoners have been recorded, purportedly for "committing administrative offences".

The "Right to Defence" project, together with human rights and legal communities, emphasises that pressure on lawyers through mass arrests and raids directly contradicts the standards of advocacy and constitutes a violation of citizens' right to qualified legal aid.

Given that the arrests of attorneys on February 28 were simultaneous and represent a continuation of the trend of state policy targeting attorneys and restricting the right to defence, we believe that pressure is being exerted in this case on a group of citizens based on their profession.

The persecution of attorneys for their professional activities by state authorities creates an atmosphere of intimidation within the legal community and has a "chilling effect" on those professionals who continue to work in accordance with international standards, sending a signal to all attorneys defending human rights. The persecution of attorneys, who are also responsible for the administration of justice, seriously undermines the implementation of the rule of law and the ability of legal professionals to defend their clients.

The arrest and detentions of attorneys on February 28 also negatively affect one’s ability to defend themselves and represent their interests with the assistance of qualified independent attorneys of their choice, as well as the ability of clients of detained attorneys to promptly challenge court decisions and verdicts. Mass arrests and pressure on certain representatives of the legal profession contradict attorneys’ right to freely engage in their professional activities and deprive clients of the right to fair trial, the guarantee of which is provided by international human rights instruments. Such precedents indicate not only serious shortcomings in the provision of legal assistance, the right to defence, and legal aid but also the impossibility of the existence of an independent and fair judiciary under such conditions.

The persecution and arbitrary detention of attorneys contradict the obligations of the Republic of Belarus under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations. They confirm the decisive role of lawyers in upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights. The state has an extremely important obligation to ensure that lawyers can perform their lawful professional functions in an atmosphere free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Republican Bar Association, as well as territorial bar associations, have in no way addressed the mass arrests and failed to condemn the systematic practice of pressure by state authorities on the legal profession. It is crucial to note that one of the functions of the self-governing bodies of the legal profession is to protect the legal profession and its members, create proper conditions for the activities of attorneys, and respond in principle to all cases of state intervention in the activities of attorneys.

Therefore, we, the "Right to Defence" project, as well as the undersigned organisations, call on the Republic of Belarus:

1) to immediately stop flagrant violations of guarantees provided to attorneys in accordance with international standards, through arbitrary detentions for carrying out their professional activities;

2) to adhere to its international human rights obligations;

3) to cease repression against attorneys.

Belarus must also respect and ensure the right of everyone to be represented by competent and independent attorneys. The realisation of this right is impossible without an independent legal profession, free from pressure from state authorities on members of the legal community.

We also call on international bar associations, other non-governmental organisations from different countries around the world, and international institutions to continue to show solidarity with Belarusian attorneys who are subjected to persecution for conscientiously performing their professional duties, and to respond to the situation of ongoing human rights violations in the country.

"Right to Defence" Project

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Human Constanta

Human Rights Center "Viasna"

Belarusian Association of Journalists

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers


Belarusian PEN

Legal Initiative

Boris Zvozskov. Belarusian Human Rights House

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