On 19 September 2021, the Swiss citizen Natallia Hersche has been in prison in Belarus for exactly one year. In an open letter, Swiss human rights organisations address Foreign Swiss Minister Ignazio Cassis and call on the Federal Council to impose bilateral sanctions on Belarus.
Natallia Hersche, a Swiss-Belarusian dual citizen from St. Gallen, took part in a rally against dictator Lukashenko’s regime in Minsk exactly one year ago, on 19 September 2020, and was arbitrarily arrested. In an unfair show trial, she was sentenced to a draconian prison term of 2 years and 6 months in December 2020.
Natallia Hersche is one of more than 650 political prisoners in Belarus. Like all other detainees, she is a hostage of the criminal Lukashenko regime – and she is the only political prisoner in Belarus who is a citizen of a Western country.
In an open letter published today, the Swiss human rights organisations ACAT-Switzerland, Campax, the Swiss-German PEN Centre, humanrights.ch, Libereco and Razam.ch criticise what they see as the insufficient efforts of Swiss Foreign Minister Cassis to free Natallia Hersche. From the NGOs’ point of view, there is a lack of political will, tangible pressure and effective measures by the Swiss Federal Council towards the ruling regime in Belarus.
As long as Natallia Hersche, a Swiss citizen, is held hostage, the Federal Council is called upon to impose targeted bilateral economic sanctions on Belarus. Specifically, all Swiss companies, such as Nestlé or Sandoz, should be prohibited from placing advertisements in Belarusian state media, with which they continuously finance Lukashenko’s propaganda channels.
Swiss banks are to be banned from trading in Belarusian government bonds and a ban on investments by Swiss companies in Belarus is to be considered. Since Belarus does not even shy away from a plane hijacking, political murder and thousands of cases of torture, a withdrawal of Stadler Rail and other Swiss companies from Belarus should no longer be taboo, the signatories of the open letter said.
“Every additional day that Natallia Hersche spends in prison documents a continued failure of Swiss foreign and human rights policy. Foreign Minister Cassis must now finally confront the Belarusian regime decisively and initiate tough economic sanctions in order to increase the pressure for the release of Natallia Hersche and the other more than 650 political prisoners in Belarus. There must be no more waiting, looking the other way or sitting it out in the case of Natallia Hersche. Foreign Minister Cassis and the Federal Council as a whole are urgently called upon to free a Swiss citizen from the hostage-taking of a brutal regime” demands Lars Bünger, President of Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights.
In order to lend weight to the demands of the open letter, Libereco and Campax have launched an online petition to Foreign Minister Cassis under the motto “Free Natallia! In addition, Libereco and Razam.ch will be holding a vigil on the anniversary of Natallia Hersche’s imprisonment on Sunday at 3pm at Lake Zurich near Bellevue to draw attention to her ongoing hostage-taking and the situation of political prisoners in Belarus.
The Open Letter to Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis in the wording
Open letter to Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis Dear Federal Councillor Cassis On 19 September, the Swiss-Belarusian dual citizen Natallia Hersche will spend a year in prison in Belarus. Exactly one year ago, she had taken part in a women's rally in Minsk against the regime of dictator Lukashenko and was arbitrarily arrested. In an unfair show trial, Natallia Hersche was sentenced to a draconian prison term of 2 years and 6 months in December 2020. For one year, Natallia Hersche has been a hostage of the Belarusian regime - and for one year, we have been missing a firm stand on your part for the release of Natallia Hersche. The consular assistance and the regular visits of the Swiss ambassador to Ms Hersche are important - but they are far from enough. In our view, there is a lack of political will, tangible pressure and effective measures on the part of the Swiss Federal Council vis-à-vis the ruling regime in Belarus. It is not enough for Switzerland to adopt the EU's regularly extended sanctions against Belarus. We call on the Federal Council to impose targeted bilateral economic sanctions on Belarus as long as a Swiss citizen, Natallia Hersche, is held hostage there. Specifically, all Swiss companies such as Nestlé or Sandoz should be immediately banned from placing advertisements in Belarusian state media with which they directly finance the propaganda channels of the Lukashenko regime. Swiss banks must be prohibited from trading in Belarusian government bonds. A ban on investments by Swiss companies in Belarus must also be considered. The withdrawal of Stadler Rail and other Swiss companies from Belarus must no longer be a taboo after this country continues to develop into a totalitarian terror regime that does not even shy away from an aeroplane hijacking, political murder and thousands of cases of torture in the middle of Europe. While Natallia Hersche and hundreds of other detainees are suffering in Belarusian prison, you welcomed the illegitimate Belarusian Foreign Minister in the Federal Parliament in April. In doing so, you courted a criminal regime that lacks any democratic legitimacy - without achieving the slightest human rights improvement for Natallia Hersche and the other political prisoners. Since then, the number of political prisoners in Belarus has doubled to more than 650 people and the last independent media and non-governmental organisations have been closed and banned. We call on you, as Swiss Foreign Minister, to take personal action and use all means at your disposal to secure the release of Swiss citizen Natallia Hersche from the hostage-taking of the Belarusian regime, the release of all political prisoners and respect for fundamental human rights in Belarus. Mr Cassis, bring Natallia Hersche back to her family in Switzerland! Yours sincerely ACAT-Switzerland Campax Swiss-German PEN Centre humanrights.ch - Human Rights Switzerland Libereco - Partnership for Human Rights RAZAM.CH