Arrest of Irina Sukhy: Belarus authorities exploiting the political turmoil to persecute environmental activists

PHOTO: Arnika

A prominent environmental activist and the founder of one of Belarus's most influential NGOs, Ecohome, Irina Sukhy, was detained in her apartment in Minsk on Sunday, September 6th, 2020. Two masked men, together with a third one who introduced himself as a police officer, detained the activist, claiming she had attended an unauthorized public assembly and took her into pre-trial detention. They confiscated a computer, a mobile phone, and an Internet router from the apartment during the house search.

On Monday, September 7th, an online trial took place in the presence of about two dozen members of the public, during which it turned out that at the time when Irina Sukhy was supposed to have attended an unauthorized assembly, she was travelling by car to a cottage, which was confirmed by several people.

The online trial continued on the next day, when Sukhy was accused of participation in another mass event on August 29th, on the basis of a picture from social media of Irina holding a banner against the nuclear power plant. Her attendance was, as Sukhy herself said during the trial, legal and based on the constitutional right to a peaceful assembly, expressing her civil opinion. The participants in the trial described it as "five minutes to get acquainted with the case materials, five minutes to talk to a lawyer, a new protocol, and five days of arrest".

The arrest of Sukhy has caused a wave of indignation and solidarity across Europe. Thanks to the help of Irina’s family, friends, and hundreds of people from Belarus and abroad, the prominent eco-activist and the founder of Belarus’s NGO Ecohome was released after five days of detention.

In addition, on Monday, September 7th, police tried to get into the apartment of Ksenia Malyukova, a member of the committee of the Ecohome NGO, and on Tuesday, September 8th, a similar attempt was made in the apartment of another member of the Ecohome committee, Maryna Dubina. Ksenia Malyukova and Maryna Dubina managed to leave the apartments before being detained.

"Ecohome is the leader of the Belarusian anti-nuclear movement, which has been one of the strongest manifestations of civil society in the past decade. The state has persecuted environmental activists for a long time, as confirmed by an investigation of the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention. We are afraid that the regime is trying to use the confusing situation during the massive protests of civil society against the falsifying of the results of the presidential election to settle accounts with its critics and inconvenient people," said Martin Skalský, chair of the Arnika association, which is involved in long-term cooperation with the Belarus Ecohome. “The arrest of Irina Sukhy and the attempt to detain other members of the Ecohome committee appear to be related to the final phase of the preparations for the launch of a nuclear power plant near the village of Ostrovets. It is Ecohome that has been drawing attention to the safety and environmental risks of this project for a long time, concludes Skalský.

Further Reading

ENG Antinuclear activists in Belarus

ENG and RU ACCC/C/2014/102 Belarus (Complaint to the Aarhus Compliance Committee related to the harassment of activists opposing the construction of an NPP in Ostrovets)