Born in a small Belarusian village in 1957, Gennady Fedynich started working as a farm mechanic at 16, setting his sights on a career in mechanical engineering. He later achieved his goal after graduating from the Belarusian Polytechnical Institute in Minsk.
But it wasn’t until decades later, in 1991, when he was elected chairman of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Radio and Electronic Industry Workers (REP) that he had the opportunity to devote more time to the defense of human rights.
In addition to providing legal advice and support to its members, REP supports the rights of consumers, families and the unemployed. The union, for example, played a leadership role in protests against a presidential decree imposing a fee on the unemployed. These protests against the fee were brutally suppressed by the government, leading to the arrest of and charges against many protestors.
In August 2018, in what is believed to be a retaliation for REP’s participation in the protests, Gennady was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to four years of restricted liberty without imprisonment. The government had used similarly trumped up charges to silence other human rights advocates in the country. He was also fined approximately €20,000 and banned from holding leadership positions at any organization or business for five years.
Though he was replaced as REP chairman, he continues to serve as an advisor, a position they specially created to work around the government ban.
Thanks to his humble beginnings, Gennady said that he always embraced the protection of human rights as a basic principle everyone should adhere to regardless of their background or social status.
“We should always remember,” he has said, “that it is easy to control a person who does not know what his or her rights are, both when it comes to a single workplace or a work collective and a country as a whole”.
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