As of May 1, 2019, the volume of gold and foreign exchange reserves of the Republic of Belarus amounted to USD 7, 6 billion (Press release)

Source: National Bank of the Republic of Belarus in English

As of May 1, 2019, the international reserve assets of the Republic of Belarus amounted to USD 7, 568.4 million (in the equivalent).
Over April 2019, gold and foreign exchange reserves increased by USD322.7 million (by 4.5%) after the growth in March 2019 by USD150.5 million (by 2.1%).
In April 2019, the Government and the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus fulfilled external and internal foreign exchange obligations worth about USD220 million.
Purchase of foreign exchange by the National Bank at the JSC “Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange”, the receipt of funds in foreign exchange to the budget, including export duties on oil and oil products, as well as proceeds from the sale of bonds denominated in foreign exchange by the National Bank and the Ministry of Finance were conductive to the growth in the level of gold and foreign exchange reserves in April.
According to Monetary Policy Guidelines for 2019, the volume of international reserve assets as at January 1, 2020, should be at least USD7.1 billion.

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Ensure exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly!

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Joint statement by human rights organizations
Minsk, May 3, 2019
On April 25, 2019, it was reported that the organizers of the annual procession of Čarnobyĺski Šliach were forced to withdraw their application earlier submitted to the Minsk City Executive Committee to request authorization of the march and the rally. The decision cites the excessive policing expenses imposed on the organizers of the event, which, according to available information, amounted to 5,737 rubles, or more than USD 2,000.
For the same reason, representatives of the country’s independent trade unions refused to hold a May Day meeting. For refusing to pay the costs of the Freedom Day gathering on March 24 in Minsk, the organizers, representatives of several opposition parties and organizations, Yury Hubarevich, Mikalai Kazlou, Ihar Barysau and Volha Kavalkova, were prosecuted under administrative procedures for violation of the rules of organization of mass events (Part 2 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus).
The human rights community has repeatedly highlighted the fact that the duty of payment for peaceful assemblies associated with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression, is an unacceptable practice that drastically limits the possibility of free exercise of these freedoms in practice. However, human rights defenders’ proposals to amend the Law “On Mass Events” were not taken into account.
Recommendations to bring the country’s legislation in line with international standards of human rights have been repeatedly addressed to Belarus by international organizations, including on 8 and 9 October 2018 by the UN Human Rights Committee, following the reporting procedure on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Among other things, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the situation of providing medical and cleaning services at meeting locations undertaken by the organizers, as well as the “obstruction of annual rallies on Freedom Day in March and Chernobyl Memorial Day in April.”
The adoption of the June 2018 amendments to the Law “On Mass Events”, as well as the ensuing approval of Decree No. 49 by the Council of Ministers, further deteriorated the situation with the exercise of the freedom of peaceful assembly, since the costs of conducting gatherings, stipulated by the new legislation, are a serious obstacle to the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
It should be noted that the legislation and, accordingly, the government’s Decree, also apply to religious meetings that are traditionally organized by representatives of various denominations. As a result, restrictions on conducting such meetings lead to restrictions on religious freedom.
Due to the current situation, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call on:
the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus:
to amend the Law “On Mass Events”, bringing it into line with international standards of human rights;
the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus:
to abolish Decree No. 49 “On Approval of the Procedure of payment for services of protection of public order provided by the internal affairs bodies, the costs associated with medical care, cleaning of the territory after the conduct of mass events”;
the authorities of the Republic of Belarus:
to guarantee citizens’ rights to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression;
to stop the practice of accountability for the peaceful exercise of the constitutional freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Initiative FORB
Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend
Legal Initiative
Belarusian PEN Center
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Assembly of NGOs

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Inauguration of second runway at Minsk National Airport

Source: President of the Republic of Belarus

3 May 2019

The second runway has been inaugurated at Minsk National Airport. The ceremony was attended by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko on 3 May.The ribbon was cut by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko, Transport and Communications Minister Aleksei Avramenko, and Director General of Minsk National Airport Dmitry Melikyan. The event was attended by employees of the airport, Belavia airline, Belaeronavigatsia enterprise and organizations that participated in the construction of the new runway.Aleksandr Lukashenko called the opening of the second runway an extraordinary event. “Many experts persuaded me that we were not up to the task, that we had never built runways and that we needed to invite a world-class company. We almost reached an agreement with one of them. But when they brought me a document for singing, it spelled out the amount worth of $600 million. Thus the project was tabled then,” the President said recalling the events.

According to the head of state, the new runway was still needed because the airport is the face of the country. It was agreed, however, that the project would be carried out by Belarusian specialists.
The runway was tested in late April as the air force one took off it heading to China and landed on it too upon return to Minsk. “My pilot told me that he saw such a runway only in the Arab Emirates. This means we are capable of implementing such projects. The project cost us not $600 million, but three times cheaper. This is our great achievement,” the President said.The head of state recalled the 1990s when there was an endemic privatization. Many foreign investors wanted to buy all the airports in the country. “I decided against the privatization of the airports, including this one. The main gate to the country should remain in the hands of the state,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.According to the President, if Minsk National Airport had been privatized then, it would not be developing at such a pace today.Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed gratitude to builders for the construction of the second runway and told them to be ready for new projects.The President added that with the opening of the new runway the airport will not stop growing better. “We need to continue modernization efforts and make it more comfortable for people. We need to get this compound into shape, make it appealing. It seems nice but lacks appeal, as airports in other states have,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.In honor of the opening of the second runway the airport employees gave the head of state a mock-up Boeing 767 300ER – air force one.The President talked to the workers and thanked them for their contribution to the construction of the new runway. Aleksandr Lukashenko was also interested in their working conditions and salaries. The Belarusian leader noted that with the increase in passenger traffic, the salaries of airport employees will also rise. “Stability, however, is what matters most. If there is instability, no one will come here. We should remember this,” the head of state said.“Thank you for what you did. It seemed impossible from the point of view of our government. Well done!” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.The second runway at Minsk National Airport is a set of engineering structures, including the concrete strip, which is 3.7km long and 60m wide, the runway and taxiways, a cargo apron, parking space for aircraft, checkpoints and other infrastructure facilities. The estimated cost of the project exceeded Br395 million. The construction of the second runway took three years and involved nearly 900 specialists and 300 construction vehicles. The new runway has been rated as 4F, which enables the airport to handle aircraft of all types without restrictions in severe weather conditions.

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Aleksandr Lukashenko thanks representatives of Belarusian Public Association of Veterans

Source: President of the Republic of Belarus

3 May 2019

For many years of fruitful work, significant personal contributions to the patriotic upbringing of young Belarusians letters of thanks of the president of Belarus have been bestowed upon representatives of the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko has signed the relevant executive order on 3 May.The list of awardees includes Chairman of the Committee of Great Patriotic War Veterans of the Brest City Organization of the public association Vasily Bereznev, Chairman of the Volkovysk District Organization Anatoly Ignatovich, and First Deputy Chairman of the Minsk City Council of the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans Viktor Kostko. Letters of thanks have also been given to First Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Gomel Oblast Organization Vasily Kozyrev, Chairman of the Council of the Mogilev District Organization Viktor Pinchuk, and a member of the Council of the Polotsk District Organization Nikolai Sushkov.

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Greetings to Japanese Emperor Naruhito on ascending the throne

Source: President of the Republic of Belarus

2 May 2019

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko has extended greetings to Japanese Emperor Naruhito on ascending the throne.“I am confident that with your support the Belarusian-Japanese relations will continue developing for the benefit of the two countries. I would be happy to establish contacts with Your Highness and promote them to discuss the prospects of bilateral cooperation and issues of international importance aimed at building a safe and confident future for our friendly nations,” the message of greetings runs.The head of state also sent a message to Emperor Akihito, who declared his abdication, noting that Belarus respects and understands the decision. “It was a great honor and pleasure for me to maintain contacts with you over all those years,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.According to the President, Belarus and Japan established diplomatic relations under the ruling of Emperor Akihito. The countries also provided mutual assistance in mitigating the consequences of manmade disasters, developed cooperation on the international arena, and also in the economic sector, sports, education, culture and science.The head of state extended greetings to the people of Japan on the beginning of the era of beauty and harmony and wished peace and wellbeing to the people of the country.

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Foreigners accredited for 2nd European Games Minsk 2019 no longer require police registration

Source: President of the Republic of Belarus

2 May 2019

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko has signed Decree No.164, which addresses some aspects of organization of the 2nd European Games Minsk 2019.The document amends a number of presidential decrees concerning the organization of the games. In particular, the new decree regulates the use of state property, the use of radio electronics and high-frequency devices, medical aid for participants and guests of the 2nd European Games Minsk 2019, and other practical matters concerning the games’ organization. Measures to reduce the cost of this large-scale event are stipulated.In addition to free passage in Minsk city passenger transport systems participants and volunteers of the games will be able to travel for free by suburban passenger transport between Minsk and the Minsk National Airport and between Minsk and Zaslavl. Foreign citizens with accreditation for the games will no longer have to seek police registration in Belarus.

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The refinancing rate remains at the level of 10% per annum (Press release)

Source: National Bank of the Republic of Belarus in English

The refinancing rate and interest rates on operations designed to regulate liquidity of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus remain at the current level. The relevant decision was taken by the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus following the meeting on monetary policy on May 3, 2019.
In fact, in 2019 Q1, the intensity of inflation processes increased slightly. The annual growth in consumer prices in March 2019 amounted to 5.8% (5.6% in December 2018). Such price dynamics is mainly due to short-term factors.
The maintenance of refinancing rate at the current level will contribute to slowing down inflation processes and achieving the set inflation target for 2019 amid the uncertainty of the influence of a number of internal and external factors on inflationary processes.
Further decisions in the field of key interest rates of the National Bank will depend on the direction of the balance shift between inflationary and deflationary factors.
The next meeting on monetary policy of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus is planned for August 7, 2019.

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Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus O.Kravchenko visits the U.S.

Source: Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs in English

03-05-2019
On April 29 – May 2, 2019 the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Oleg Kravchenko, paid a visit to Washington, DC.
At the National Security Council Oleg Kravchenko met with the Special Assistant to the President, NSC Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, Fiona Hill.
At State Department the Deputy Foreign Minister met with the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, and Senior Bureau Official, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Kozak.
At Congress, meetings were held with the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Roger Wicker, as well as professional staff members of several Senate committees.
Oleg Kravchenko had a discussion with the leaders of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry Mark Levin and Leslie Weiss.
The visit also included meetings with the representatives of think tanks: Senior Director of Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, Michael Carpenter, President and CEO of Hudson Institute, Kenneth Weinstein, President of Jamestown Foundation, Glen Howard, Senior Vice President of American Foreign Policy Council, Ilan Berman, and a group of researchers of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, including Director and Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Eugene Rumer, and Vice President for Studies, Russia and Eurasia Program, Andrew Weiss.
The development of economic ties was discussed with the Chairman of Belarus-U.S. Business Council, David Baron.

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Human Rights Situation in Belarus: April 2019

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Summary:
political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in a prison in Horki;
on April 18, the court of the Lieninski district of Brest sentenced local blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin to a fine of 9,180 rubles (USD 4,381), finding him guilty of crimes under Part 2, Art. 188 (defamation) and Part 2, Art. 189 (insult) of the Criminal Code. Also, the court sustained the civil claims of four victims, employees of the Lieninski district police department for a total of 7,750 rubles or 3,700 US dollars. Thus, the blogger will have to pay a total of USD 8,000;
the authorities discontinued a criminal investigation against blogger Andrei Pavuk. However, they have not closed the criminal case under Part 1, Art. 340 (knowingly false threat message) into a false bomb threat to the executive committee building in the town of Akciabrski allegedly sent from Pavuk’s email address to the Homieĺ regional office of the Emergencies Ministry. The investigators have not returned the equipment seized from the blogger during the search at his apartment;
during the month, the authorities continued to investigate a criminal case against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau from Biaroza, Brest region. Kabanau is accused under Part 1, Art. 211 CC (embezzlement).
the opposition forces withdrew their bid to host the traditional demonstration Čarnobyĺski Šliach due to lack of funds to pay for the costs associated with its organization. The total expenditure amounted to 5,737 rubles, or more than 2,300 US dollars;
journalists working with foreign media without accreditation were still prosecuted in court;
in April, there were new cases of citizens being prosecuted under administrative procedures for the spread of so-called “extremist materials”, including on the Internet. In most cases, the charges constituted an illegal and disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression;
human rights defenders documented more cases of arrests and administrative sentences in connection with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly;
activist Dzmitry Paliyenka is still held in a jail in Žodzina. After 16 days of detention, he finally faced charges under Part 3, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (especially malicious hooliganism), Art. 130 (inciting discord) and Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (desecration of the buildings and property damage). The Human Rights Center “Viasna” continues to closely monitor this criminal case;
in general, April was marked by a certain deterioration of the overall human rights situation in the country and the negative trends that had emerged in March were further developed. At the same time, the authorities were still trying to avoid the use of most severe forms of repression against civil society and the political opposition;
during his address to the Parliament, President Lukashenka said the next parliamentary elections were scheduled for November. Thus, the powers of the current MPs will be reduced by almost one year, which runs counter to the country’s Constitution.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On April 2, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community issued a joint statement in connection with the criminal prosecution of Brest blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin, which called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately cease his persecution and drop all the charges.
On April 18, Judge Aliaksandr Semianchuk of the Lieninski District Court of Brest found Piatrukhin guilty under Part 2, Art. 188 (defamation) and Part 2, Art. 189 (insult) of the Criminal Code. The blogger was punished by a fine of 9,180 rubles or 4,381 US dollars. The court also sustained the civil claims of the victims in the case and ordered to cover moral damages to four employees of the Lieninski district police department of Brest in the amount of 7,750 rubles or 3,700 US dollars. Thus, the blogger will have to pay a total of USD 8,000.
The prosecution asked the judge to sentence the blogger to 2 years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility and a fine of 100 basic units.
In a similar case in Biaroza, the authorities continued a criminal investigation against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau earlier charged under Part 1, Art. 211 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement).
Blogger Andrei Pavuk was cleared of the charges under Part 1, Art. 340 of the Criminal Code. Pavuk was suspected of sending a false bomb threat to the Homieĺ regional department of the Ministry of Emergencies.
The criminal case, however, has not been closed. The investigators continue to search for the perpetrators, and refuse to return the equipment seized from the blogger during the search.
On April 2, police found what they said was an explosive device, as well as ammunition, in a car driven by environmental activist Maisei Mazko. Later Mazko and his son Dzianis were detained as suspected of committing a crime under Part 2, Art. 295 of the Criminal Code (illegal actions with firearms, explosives and ammunition). Their home was searched, and no illegal items were found. After three days of stay in the detention center, the two were released.
A resident of the village of Teĺmy, Brest district, Maisei Mazko is a protester against the construction of a battery plant near Brest. The factory has been repeatedly criticized by environmental activists and local residents. The activist’s family and associates believe his arrest is a provocation.
During the month, the authorities continued to investigate the criminal charges against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau, who was charged under Part 1, Art. 211 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement). He is suspected of misappropriating 440 rubles while serving as chairperson of a housing cooperative in 2017. The case was opened at the request of a resident of the condominium, a current police officer.
Human rights defenders of Viasna say the arrests and criminal charges against several environmental activists and bloggers in Brest are linked to the authorities’ wish to put pressure on them in order to prevent protests against the construction of the battery factory.
The prison in the town of Horki continued to hold political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny. Most of the time recently, he has been spending in a punishment cell for refusing to obey the prison administration’s orders, which endanger his life, health and dignity.
Harassment of human rights defenders
The Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders condemned the prosecution Viasna activist Uladzimir Vialichkin and 17 environmental activists who were arrested on 12 and 14 April following their involvement in protests against the construction of a battery factory in Brest.
Vialichkin was detained in the Lieninski district police department of Brest after he, along with nine other environmental activists, was summoned to the police as a witness in administrative proceedings. The two activists were released after a few hours. Others, including Vialichkin, spent three days in a temporary detention facility.
Another eight protesters were arrested on April 14 during a new protest against the construction of the plant, which was held in Brest’s central Lenin Square.
Uladzimir Vialichkin and most other activists were detained under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code for violating the order of organizing or holding mass events. The charges relate to a protest, which took place in the center of Brest on April 7.
The hearings in the cases of all the 18 activists were held in the premises of the Lieninski district police department on April 15. Reporters and human rights defenders were not allowed to be present at the hearings as observers. As a result, the court postponed consideration of the cases. Three activists were fined.
The Observatory recalls that this is not the first arrest of Uladzimir Vialichkin and other activists from Brest, and that other human rights defenders have been targeted for taking part in protests against the construction of the plant, in particular, Raman Kisliak.
Cruel treatment
Maryia Bahdanava, the mother of Aleh Bahdanau who died in Žodzina prison No. 8 in 2016, received another, sixth consecutive notification of the termination of the preliminary investigation into her son’s death, after the previous five were canceled following the woman’s complaints. The victim’s mother has been seeking prosecution of the prison staff for negligence and professional misconduct, which caused the prisoner’s death. Yet another complaint is being prepared.
A resident of Brest Pavel Kaminski, whose story became known thanks to blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin, received a reply from the prosecutor of Brest who refused to institute criminal proceedings against the police officers, whom he blames for his beating. Since July 3, 2016, the authorities have canceled several decisions by the investigators to refuse to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers, but the prosecutor repeatedly avoided a full investigation into the act of police violence. In March, the deputy prosecutor of Brest dismissed one of the complaints on apparently spurious grounds, providing no grounds in support of his decision. The repeated denials of a full investigation are clearly linked to the fact that the prosecutor’s office of Brest supported in court criminal charges against blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin of defaming the police officers involved in Kaminski’s case.
Violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly
On April 4, the authorities organized the mass demolition of dozens of wooden crosses installed around the Kurapaty forest, a place of mass executions of victims of Stalinist repression. More than a dozen activists who intervened were arrested and detained for several hours in the police department of Minsk. They were later fined.
The following day, opposition activists Pavel Seviarynets and Nina Bahinskaya were arrested in Kurapaty. On April 5, Seviarynets was punished with fifteen days of prison, while Bahinskaya was awarded a fine of 50 basic units.
On April 7, several peaceful assemblies were held across Belarus. A prayer service for those killed in Kurapaty was held in central Minsk after an announcement by opposition politician Mikalai Statkevich. For this, he and Maksim Viniarski were detained and punished with administrative detention. Another protest against the construction of an environmentally hazardous battery factory was held in Brest. Activists gathered in the center of Svietlahorsk to protest the deterioration of the ecological situation in the city.
Nine people were arrested in Brest ahead of another protest against the opening of a battery factory. More protesters were arrested after a procession on Sunday. On Monday, April 15, the protesters’ administrative charges were heard behind closed doors in the building of the police department.
There was no true simplification of the procedure of holding peaceful assemblies, despite announcements and wide publicity by the Belarusian authorities at different negotiating fora and in international organizations. On the contrary, the few public events that were previously allowed by the government are now under threat of extinction. The key reasons are the heavy costs the authorities charge the organizers for policing the events. The recent victims of the disproportional restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly include members of the organizing committee for the celebration of the Freedom Day in Minsk: the organizers of the event have disputed the quality of services provided and the amount charged for policing the assembly, which was significantly increased in comparison with that specified in the contract. Although the relevant legislation provides for such situations and allows for the resolution of disputes through negotiations and in court, the organizers were fined for refusing to pay for police services before the solution of the dispute on the merits.
In April, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” documented a total of 48 cases of bringing protesters to administrative responsibility for exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
On April 22, the organizers of Čarnobyĺski Šliach, the annual march on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, received permission from the Minsk city executive committee to carry out the April 26 procession. However, the city police department charged 7,500 rubles for policing the event. Following this, the organizing committee issued a statement in which he expressed strong disagreement with the excessive cost. As a result, the organizers withdrew their application for the event referring to lack of funds.
Several dozens of people who chose to come out on April 26, despite the absence of official permission, will be prosecuted under administrative procedures, facing heavy fines and short prison terms. Some of them have already faced administrative charges.
The new procedure of charging organizers of peaceful assemblies affected representatives of religious denominations who practice various kinds of processions, since open-air religious gatherings are governed by the rules of the Law “On Mass Events”.
Violations of freedom of opinion and expression
Law enforcement agencies continued to arbitrary apply anti-extremist legislation to limit freedom of opinion and expression, freedom to receive and impart information.
On April 8, the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk fined anarchist Mikalai Dzidok on charges of distributing blacklisted information under Part 2, Art. 17.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. Protesting against the unjustified restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, the activist posted several anti-police offensive acronyms and photos in his social media accounts as part of a flash mob #яэкстремист (“iamanextremist”).
Harassment of journalists
The pressure on independent journalists continues.
On April 9, the office of TV channel “Belsat” in Minsk was searched in a criminal case opened by the Investigative Committee after Belsat’s website published false information about the arrest of a former employee of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee Andrei Shved. The error was quickly corrected, but the official was not satisfied with the official rebuttal and sought prosecution for the independent journalists.
On April 11, Judge Aliaksandr Semianchuk considered administrative charges against journalist Yauhen Skrabets under Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code (working for foreign media without accreditation). As a result, the reporter was fined 765 rubles.
In April, there were a total of 6 cases of independent journalists fined for their cooperation with foreign media.
Violations of the guarantees of a fair trial
Five months after his release from prison, Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka was again arrested and held in detention without charge since March 20. On April 5, it became known that he was accused of committing several crimes: especially malicious hooliganism, incitement of social hatred under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code, as well as desecration of buildings and property damage. The reason for the first charge was the activist’s conflict with a drunken passer-by, in which Paliyenka used pepper spray, which he says was self-defense. The other two charges stem from a video the activists posted online to criticize the activities of the Interior Ministry.

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Human Rights Watch: Use Europe Games to Spur Media Freedom

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief of news portal tut.by, in court

(Brussels) – The European Olympic Committees (EOC) should establish a complaints hotline for journalists during the 2019 European Games, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Belarus will host the games, a multi-sport event for more than 4,000 athletes, in Minsk from June 21-30.  
World Press Freedom Day, which will take place on May 3, was created to evaluate and advance press freedom around the world. Belarus has long had a poor record on media freedom and freedom of expression. In the past two years, Belarusian authorities have further tightened regulations on online resources, carried out groundless searches of the editorial offices of several news organizations, and increased prosecutions and other harassment of freelance journalists, ultimately initiating a record number of criminal charges against journalists and bloggers.

“Belarusian authorities have a long and sorry history of contempt for media freedom, so it’s likely they may harass independent journalists in the lead-up and during the European Games,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central director at Human Rights Watch. “The European Olympic Committees should be ready to address this.” 

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka will have been in office for 25 years in July. His tenure has been marked by entrenched authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said. The government severely restricts independent media and independent organizations and refuses permission for most human rights groups to register and operate freely. 
However, in recent years the government made some improvements to the human rights situation. It has downgraded“unregistered” involvement in non-governmental organizations from a criminal offense to an administrative one, and has released most high-profile political prisoners. 
But 2019 is on track to be one of the worst years for media freedom and freedom of expression in Belarus in the past decade, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said. In 2018, authorities prosecuted dozens of freelance journalists for cooperating with unregistered foreign media, fining them between US$230 and US$580. In the first three months of 2019, at least seven journalists were prosecuted on these charges. 
Police often arrest journalists covering unauthorized peaceful protests along with the protesters. Belarusian authorities use “anti-extremism” legislation to suppress legitimate speech.
In April, police raided the Minsk office of Belsat – a satellite television station registered in Poland that is the only independent television channel broadcasting in Belarus. The raid was in connection with a dubious criminal libel investigation brought by a public official in response to an incident in 2018.
In February 2018, Belarusian courts handed down suspended five-year sentences to three bloggers with Russian-language websites, accusing them of inciting extremism and sowing social discord between Russia and Belarus.
In 2018 and 2019, authorities prosecuted 14 journalists from independent publications for allegedly using passwords for the state news agency, BelTA, without paying the fee for authorization to access it. The criminal charges against them were eventually replaced with administrative charges. Each was fined between 3,000 and 17,000 Belarusian rubles (US$1,420 – $8,050). 
A court found Maryna Zolatava, the editor of TUT.BY, one of the publications under investigation, guilty of criminal negligence for allegedly being aware that her staff was using login data for BeITA’s paid subscription. It fined her 7,650 Belarusian rubles.
In the context of government efforts to control the media in Belarus, freedom of expression activists believe that these cases were pursued as retaliation against news outlets rather than in response to genuine concern about illegal activity, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly urged the European Olympic Committees to establish media freedom procedures for the Minsk Games. In letters sent in January 2018 and January 2019, the Sport & and Rights Alliance, a coalition of independent groups including Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, urged the EOC to immediately set up a hotline or grievance mechanism, “share the details widely with the Belarusian journalist community as well as externally,” and “provide assurances that complaints will be handled immediately and effectively.” 
The European Olympic Committees, an association of 50 National Olympic Committees, owns and regulates the European Games. The EOC and its members are part of the Olympic Movement and governed by the Olympic Charter, which has explicit guarantees for media freedom. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made media freedom grievance procedures available during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and FIFA made a grievance procedure available during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. 

“Media grievance systems have become an important new standard to advance media freedom around mega-events like the European Games,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “In a repressive environment such as Belarus, it is essential for the European Olympic Committees and the IOC to stand up for press freedom and ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely.”

Source: hrw.org

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