The environment for the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Belarus has continuously deteriorated since an authoritarian political regime was established there in 1994. HRDs are systematically subjected to intimidation and harassment, including judicial harassment, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary detention and conviction, ill-treatment and defamation, searches of offices and personal belongings, and confiscations of equipment. The widespread impunity of law enforcement officers contributes to even further human rights violations and retaliations against HRDs.
Human rights organisations are systematically denied registration, while the Criminal Code criminalises members of non-registered groups with punishments of up to two years in prison. Furthermore, legislative amendments passed in 2011 made it illegal for human rights organisations to hold funds abroad and established criminal liability for receiving foreign grants or donations. Human rights lawyers are disbarred for defending detained civil and political activists and denouncing their conditions of detention or the violation of fair trial guarantees. The human rights community is routinely stigmatized as being politically motivated and accused of receiving foreign funding in order to carry out sedition, criticise the government or destabilise the existing political system.
There are no independent Belarusian news agencies registered in Belarus. Journalists working with agencies in exile, as well as bloggers and photographers, who vocally denounce violations of human rights, are often subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions or judicial harassment on charges of illegal production and distribution of information, extremism, discrediting and insulting the president or hooliganism. In 2000 and in 2016, two human rights journalists were killed following their active reporting on human rights violations and criticism of repressive policies of the authoritarian government of Belarus.