'Stay Strong': Noted Belarusian Lawyer Who Defended Political Prisoners Deprived Of License

(Article text ©2021 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - rferl.org - Oct. 26, 2021 - article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/belarus-prominent-lawyer-disbarred/31530451.html)

Natallya Matskevich, a Belarusian lawyer known for having defended prominent political prisoners in the country, says she has been deprived of her license, becoming the latest attorney in Belarus to be targeted amid an intensifying crackdown on civil society and the political opposition following last year’s disputed presidential election.

Matskevich tweeted late on October 25 that the Minsk Collegiate of Attorneys had excluded her from its “proud ranks.”

"I felt sorry for them...Thanks to all good people for their support! My clients, stay strong. I will miss you," Matskevich wrote.

The announcement comes days after the Justice Ministry suspended Matskevich on October 12, saying a disciplinary investigation had been launched into her alleged wrongdoing.

Matskevich is one of the most prominent lawyers in Belarus. Her clients included jailed would-be presidential candidates Viktar Babaryka and Syarhey Tsikhanouski.

Earlier this year, another lawyer for Babaryka, Dzmitry Layeuski, was stripped of his license, while his other attorney, Illya Saley, fled the country after being charged with calling for actions that undermine the country’s national security.

Anton Hashynski, another well-known lawyer who has defended several opposition figures, was also deprived of his license for alleged wrongdoings.

Belarus was engulfed by protests last year after a presidential election in August -- which the opposition and West say was rigged -- gave strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.

In response, the government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.

Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and has refused to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.

The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have imposed sanctions on him and several senior Belarusian officials in response to the "falsification" of the vote and the postelection crackdown.

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Key Words: Belarus, Human Rights, Politics Prisoners, Attorneys, Natallya Matskevich, Russia

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