On October 17, Ecohome NGO, the oldest environmental organisation in Belarus, was added to the list of extremist formations. It was specified that the organisation “continues its activities abroad through the Internet network resources”, and its “heads, coordinators and participants” allegedly “carry out extremist activities”.
“Obviously this is just a continuation of the systematic repressions of the illegitimate regime against the Belarusian civil society in general and environmental activists in particular,” the organisation wrote on its social networks. “Instead of providing substantive answers to the environmentalists’ complaints, the regime chose the path of escalation.”
Ecohome was founded back in 1996. For over 26 years it has been actively working to protect the rights of citizens to a healthy environment, helping Belarusians solve environmental problems and conducting an anti-nuclear campaign. In August 2021, officials liquidated the organisation and ordered it to reimburse the state for 87 Belarusian rubles for legal costs. The office of the organisation was searched, as well as the house of Marina Dubina, the head of Ecohome (within the framework of Art. 293 and 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus — mass riots and organisation of actions that violate public order) and the house of Irina Sukhiy, a member of the council and co-founder of the organisation.
The international community did not leave these events unanswered. At the 7th meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention at the end of October, 2021, the liquidation of the organisation was recognised as a case of political persecution and harassment of NGOs. Belarus was urged to take steps to restore Ecohome registration by December 1, 2021, or face suspension of special rights and privileges under the Convention starting February 1, 2022. Ecohome was not restored in registration, and five months later, on July 18, 2022, Belarusian officials announced that Belarus decided to withdraw from the Aarhus Convention. It took another three months for the KGB of Belarus to recognize Ecohome as an «extremist formation.»
As of October 20, 2022, 95 organisations and formations in Belarus are recognised as those involved in extremist activities. However, previously this list comprised media, opposition initiatives, foundations, anarchist movements and Telegram chats. Ecohome has become the first public organisation on the list. Recognising an organisation as an “extremist formation” does not require a court hearing — a decision by the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the KGB is sufficient. In accordance with Belarusian legislation, creating, financing and participating in an extremist formation, as well as providing assistance to its activities is criminally liable. At the same time, the interpretation of these activities is very broad.
Ecohome continues its work, despite the searches, detentions and politically motivated liquidation: “we regret that currently in Belarus the achievements of civil society organisations are “recognised” in such a perverted way and we continue to work for Belarus.”