Charter 97 (Belarusian: Хартыя'97; Russian: Хартия'97) is a declaration calling for democracy in Belarus and a pro-human rights news site taking its inspiration from the declaration. The document – the title of which deliberately echoes the Czechoslovak human rights declaration Charter 77 20 years earlier – was created on the anniversary of a referendum held in 1996, and which, in the words of the organisation of the same name, declares:
"devotion to the principles of independence, freedom and democracy, respect to the human rights, solidarity with everybody, who stands for elimination of dictatorial regime and restoration of democracy in Belarus".
Charter 97, as a citizens' human rights organisation based on the principles outlined in this document, is a non-partisan organisation which has organised protest rallies and has provided a springboard for other democratic movements in the country. It also maintains a website of news with a focus on human rights developments. The site's editor-in-chief, Natalya Radina, received the 2011 International Press Freedom Award, "an annual recognition of courageous journalism", for her work.
On 3 September 2010, the body of the founder of Charter 97, Aleh Byabenin, was found in his house near Minsk. According to initial statements by the Belarusian government, Bebenin committed suicide by hanging himself. However, friends of Bebenin have rejected this, stating that there was no indication Bebenin was planning to commit suicide, and that there were no messages or notes left behind.
In the weeks following the disputed December 2010 presidential election – in which pro-democracy candidate Andrei Sannikov lost to Lukashenko, often called "Europe's last dictator" – a number of opposition protesters took to the streets, alleging fraud. Radina and the Charter 97 staff posted numerous articles documenting arrests and injuries to the protesters by state security forces. On 21 December 2010, the Charter 97 office was raided by agents of the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (known in Russian as the "KGB"). Radina only had time to post "We're all at the KGB" on the site before being arrested and taken away.
- "Belarus government accused of human rights abuses". BBC News. 11 November 1997. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- "CPJ International Press Freedom Awards 2011". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
- Andrew Osborn (20 December 2010). "Alexander Lukashenko: "Europe's last dictator"". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Michael Schwirtz (21 December 2010). "Clashes in Belarus Show Resilience of Both Sides". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- "Pro-opposition news website attacked, shut down". IFEX. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2012.