The ECBA Human Rights Committee would like to express its growing concern about the situation in Belarus regarding the impermissible persecution and the default convictions of political dissidents that amounts, in our view, to the flagrant denial of the fair trials principle in the country. 

On 26 December 2022, Ms Aliaksandra Herasimenia, retired three-time Olympic medal swimmer, and Mr Alexander Opeikin, executive director of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, were tried in absentia and each sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, the maximum penalty possible.

The Olympian athlete and her co-defendant were found guilty of calling for sanctions against the Belarusian regime for its support of the invasion of Ukraine, which were considered by the Belarusian Authorities as being aimed at “harming the national security of Belarus”.

Since 2020, the athlete has been well known for opposing the regime in a variety of ways, including founding with Alexander Opeikin the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), whose main goal is to provide support to athletes who have been detained and have faced repression in any way for expressing their political views.

Since the beginning of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the BSSF has been recognised as an “extremist organisation” in Belarus for its stance against the invasion of Ukraine.

Although only Aliaksandra Herasimenia and Alexander Opeikin have been sentenced in absentia so far, according to reports it is expected that for political reasons more people will be tried in absentia soon.

The legal basis for such trials is the infamous law signed by President Lukashenko in July 2022 that amended the Code of Criminal Procedure, introducing the “special proceedings”  where serious criminal cases can be heard without the presence of the defendant should they live abroad.

People can now be tried in absentia even for offences that bring about the death penalty.

We receive news that the list of persons involved in death penalty cases (terrorism, state treason, etc) includes an average of 50 people, among whom are activists, politicians, and independent journalists.

We receive reports that another innovation, which will only confirm the ongoing repression of political dissidents in Belarus, will be the amendment to the Law on citizenship, which will allow the state to deprive dissidents of their Belarusian citizenship.


As of 3 January 2023, 1,446 people in Belarus were reported as political prisoners and arrests are reportedly continuing every day all over Belarus.

Cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in politically motivated criminal cases are still being recorded, yet to date no criminal proceedings have been confirmed against individuals engaged in committing torture. 

In view of the above, the ECBA HR Committee urges the Belarusian authorities:

To immediately drop all criminal charges against Aliaksandra Herasimenia and Alexander Opeikin and generally refrain from the persecution of persons based solely on their political beliefs and activity.

To stop using the trials in absentia, without any respect for internationally recognised fair trial principles, as a weapon against political dissidents and freedom of speech and political activity.

To fully comply with the standards regarding the fair character of the criminal trials, with respect for defence and human rights.

To protect freedom of speech and assembly of citizens, even if their views differ from those of the authorities.

To restore the rule of law, democracy and human rights.