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


Human Rights Situation in Belarus: April 2019

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

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.


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


“Learning to see the homeless as human beings”: HRDs present report on homeless people in Belarus

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Photo: humanconstanta.by/homeless/

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Constanta and the Partnership for Human Rights Libereco presented a joint report “Homeless People and the Right to Housing in Belarus” and an online resource about the problems of people without a home.
The initiative focused on studying and highlighting the problems of homeless people in Belarus in order to improve their situation and rights of these people.
The human rights activists covered an array of problems faced by the homeless in our country: the right to housing, discrimination, restrictions on access to public places, arbitrary detention, eviction without providing alternative accommodation, stigmatization, hate speech, and others.
The goal of the research is analyzing public policies and mechanisms of assistance to homeless persons in Belarus in terms of the right of everyone to adequate housing, as well as the presentation of the problems faced by homeless people in gaining access to such mechanisms that impede the full exercise of their rights or result in direct violations.
During the presentation held on April 25 in Minsk, Aleh Hulak, chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, noted that the researchers wanted to highlight the problem, to force it to the domain of public discussion and debate.

“We are not offering any “recipes” to cure the problem. But it is important to show the problem, to talk about those approaches that could help to develop solutions related to the emergence of homelessness,” he said.

The human rights activist noted that Belarus is currently implementing a UN program “Sustainable Development Goals”, and has already submitted its report arguing that there is no poverty in the country, and, therefore, there is no homelessness.

Human rights activists Aleh Hulak and Vasil Sankovich
The activists have analyzed the legislation and international mechanisms, which affect the exercise of the rights of homeless people, media reports, and conducted a series of interviews with people who identify themselves as homeless.

“The problem starts at the level of defining homeless people, and after this the question arises of how many people are in this situation and since we do not have a clear definition for all government bodies, there are no unified statistics, and, therefore, no comprehensive policy for dealing with the problem of homelessness,” Hulak said.

The expert noted that Belarus has not yet developed any policy to tackle homelessness. Nor are there any legal and policy instruments in force to take coordinated action.
There is also a problem of negative attitudes by the police.

“But working directly with homeless people, we found that in fact none of the interviewees said that they have chosen their lives consciously, that homelessness is their lifestyle, and they want to live this way. It’s always a coincidence, which the person cannot cope with, for objective qualities and lack of preparation, and wants to get out of this situation,” Aleh Hulak stressed.

The report also provides recommendations to state authorities, including:
adopting a state program to prevent, reduce and mitigate the consequences of homelessness, based on a human rights approach to housing policies;
reviewing existing methods of collecting statistics of homelessness with a view to adopting an approach based on an adequate definition of homelessness;
taking measures to combat discrimination, stigmatization and the spread of negative stereotypes of homeless people;
taking steps to prevent unjustified limitation of access to public places;
preventing the recurrence of mass detention practices, administrative arrests, and removal of homeless people outside the city on the occasion of the European Games to be held in Minsk in June 2019;
taking measures to prevent evictions entailing homelessness of those evicted, and others.
Human Constanta co-founder Nasta Loika said that the activists launched a special Internet page, which, on the one hand, accumulates information about organizations and initiatives that are already helping the homeless, and, on the other hand, offers publications that reveal the actual stories of the homeless.

“One of our goals was showing how one can work with the issue of homelessness, take into account the particular situations of people, abandon to use the word “bomzh” (Russian derogatory acronym for a person of no fixed abode”), show the problems of homeless people, instead of turning them into abbreviations, and in the end — learning to see homeless people as human beings,” Loika said.

Subsequently, representatives of the human rights organizations are planning to include information on homelessness in an alternative report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which will be presented in 2020, and will continue to work in various areas in order to overcome the problem of homelessness in Belarus and stigmatization of the homeless.


Opposition cites excessive policing charge to call off first Chernobyl remembrance rally in 30 years

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Charnobylski Shliakh demonstration in 2017. Photo: nn.by

The organizers of Charnobylski Shliakh, an annual demonstration held on April 26 in Minsk to remember the victims of the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion, say there will be no rally this year after the city police department charged them 5,700 rubles (or USD 2,700) for policing the event.
The authorities also missed a deadline to reply to the organizers’ formal application and thus “did everything to undermine the protest,” according to Volha Kavalkova, co-chair of the Belarusian Christian Democracy.
Last week, Kavalkova wrote to the Minister of Justice to complain about the current rules for the organization of meetings, including obligation to cover police services, which contradict three articles of the Constitution.
Another Charnobylski Shliakh co-organizer, Viachaslau Siuchyk of the opposition group Razam, says the policing costs are excessive, as they prevent citizens from exercising their basic right to organize peaceful protests.
According to Viasna expert Valiantsin Stefanovich, recent changes in the law “On Mass Events”, which entered into force three months ago, did not improve the situation with the freedom of peaceful assembly, but, on the contrary, created backbreaking conditions for the organizers of public events.

“The situation with Charnobylski Shliakh is a sort of quintessence of the problem of laying the costs of holding peaceful assemblies on the organizers. This is one of our traditional grounds for criticism of the law “On Mass Events”.
The situation further deteriorated after the adoption of the amendments and the entry into force of a government decree, which set tariffs for paid services provided by the police. Also, according to the decree, if the organizers want to stage a protest outside a designated place, the multiplying factor is used in calculating the amount of payment. As a result, the final cost can be up to several thousand euros,” the human rights activist said.


Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemns Brest arrests

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin, an environmental rights defender and member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” (HRC “Viasna”), as well as other 17 environmental defenders, in the context of the repression of an environmental protest movement against the construction of a battery plant in Brest.
According to the information received, on April 12, 2019, Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin was arrested at the Lieninski police department in Brest, after being summoned by the police to appear at the precinct. Nine other environmental defenders—Ms. Katsiaryna Basarhina and Messrs. Dzmitry Andrasiuk, Uladzimir Kazlouski, Dzianis Malashenka, Siarhei Svirski, Uladzislau Abramovich, Aleh Yarmolenka, Dziamyan Lepiasevich, and Aleh Vialau—were arrested at the Lieninski police department on the same day. Mr. Dzmitry Andrasiuk and Ms. Katsiaryna Basarhina were released several hours after the arrests. Others spent three days in a temporary detention facility of the department.
At least eight other protesters—Ms. Tatsiana Fesikava and Messrs. Aliaksandr Kabanau, Dzmitry Bekaliuk, Ales Abliak, Yahor Kandratsiuk, Vital Kazak, Viktar Sendzer, and Mikalai Tratsiuk—were arrested on April 14, 2019, while they were protesting on Brest’s Lenin Square against the construction of the battery plant.
According to the information received, Mr. Uladzimir Vialichkin and most of the other protesters were arrested under Article 23.34 of the Belarus Code of Administrative offences for violating the procedure for organizing or holding mass events. The charges are related to the protest along Brest’s Savieckaja Street on April 7, 2019, during which people chanted slogans against the construction of the plant.
The hearings in the cases of all 18 defenders took place at the Lieninski police department in Brest, on April 15, 2019. Media and human rights defenders were not allowed to attend the hearings as observers. As a result, the Court postponed the consideration of cases of those arrested on April 12. Three protesters were fined.
The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time Messrs. Uladzimir Vialichkin, Aliaksandr Kabanau and Vital Kazak are arrested and that other human rights defenders have been targeted for their participation in protests against this battery plant in Brest, such as Mr. Raman Kisliak. It emphasises that the Belarusian legislation violates the right to peaceful assembly by unjustifiably prohibiting citizens to hold peaceful assemblies without authorisation. In Belarus, the authorities routinely reject requests to hold peaceful assemblies related to practically any human rights or other societal issue, either without providing adequate reason or by referring to the law that requires organisers to ensure first medical aid during the event and to subsequently clean the event venue.
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Messrs. Uladzimir Vialichkin and all the other 17 environmental defenders above mentioned, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and assembly.
Source: fidh.org


President sets parliamentary elections for early November

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

The parliamentary elections will be held on November 7, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said today when addressing Parliament with an annual speech.
He also said that the presidential election is scheduled for late 2020.
The decisions have not been formalized yet.
Uladzimir Labkovich, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections,” believes that the appointment of the parliamentary polls for November 2019 contradicts the country’s Constitution.

“The people of the Republic of Belarus, as the main legislator, gave authority to members of the current Parliament for four years. This is spelled out in Article 93 of the Constitution. The previous parliamentary elections were held in September 2016. Therefore, it is clear that the next elections of the House of Representatives should be held no later than in September 2020.
In order to hold the elections one year before the expiry of the parliamentary term, the authorities should refer to an exhaustive list of circumstances, which does not include President Lukashenka’s personal wish,” Labkovich said.

Uladzimir Labkovich
Uladzimir Labkovich stresses that it is difficult to judge the political reasons for this decision, as the system of power is completely closed:

“In general, I do not see any valid reasons for holding elections in 2019, as the legislation provides for specific terms, and the two elections could be held in 2020.”

Aliaksandr Lukashenka was first elected in 1994. He has ruled the country for almost 25 years.


Critical blogger awarded heavy fine in police defamation trial

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

http://spring96.org/en/news/92697 2019 2019-04-18T16:05:36+0300 2019-04-18T16:05:36+0300 2019-04-18T16:07:14+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/petruhin_143e5264.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Siarhei Piatrukhin. Photo: spring96.org

Blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin has been found guilty of slander and insult in a trial that was completed today in Brest.
Judge Aliaksandr Semianchuk sentenced Piatrukhin to a fine totaling to 9,180 rubles, or 4,380 USD. The defendant was also ordered to pay 3,700 USD in moral damages to four local police officers who were allegedly targeted in his YouTube videos.
Earlier, the prosecutor asked to send the blogger to a penal labor facility.
Piatrukhin has one month to pay the fine and the moral compensation. Until then, his assets will remain frozen.
The blogger says he does not consider himself guilty and is going to file an appeal.

“This verdict shows that they can do anything, it’s the police who’s in charge here. This is an attack on freedom of speech. Of course, for me it is a huge fine, given the short period to pay it. I have no such money,” Piatrukhin said.


Michel Forst: “I’m sure I’ll find ways to protect human rights defenders until the end of my life”

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

On April 16, Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, met with representatives of the Belarusian human rights community as part of his academic visit to Minsk.
Mr. Forst told Viasna about his personal reasons for doing human rights work, his plans for after the end of his tenure and a piece of advice to human rights defenders.

Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Each of the 56 UN Special Rapporteurs is elected for a period of three years with the right to be re-elected once. Michel Forst is about to finish his sixth year of work, and accordingly will not be able to be re-elected. Soon we will learn the name of the next Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“I will leave my position with a sense of satisfaction only if I know that the person who comes to replace me has the same vision and the same assessment of the role of the mandate and its capabilities as I do. And I will do everything in my power to participate in this process and ensure continuity,” he said.

Before being elected to the UN special procedure post, Michel Forst had had 20 years of experience in the field of human rights protection.

“And I’m sure I’ll find ways to protect human rights defenders until the end of my life, because this is what I consider to be a cause of my life, regardless of the mandate.
I am not tired, not disappointed and still delighted with the discussions that I have every day with human rights activists. And it inspires me. Wherever I am at such meetings as today: in Colombia, Mexico, here or in any other country, this gives me the strength to continue, because I see how determined all the human rights activists with whom I talk are. And it fills me with the determination to support and protect these people.”

Another source of satisfaction and motivation for Michel Forst is that when he first began his work, there were countries that said his mandate was unnecessary and struggled with the mandate as such. Today, these countries officially invite him, because through the steps that he was able to take, first informally, they concluded that the Special Rapporteur’s activities are useful and help them solve some internal problems or carry out the necessary reforms.

Regarding the situation of human rights defenders in different countries, Michel Frost said:

“I don’t like to compare countries, because each country develops a little differently, although of course there are similarities, there are obvious differences that are striking. Nevertheless, comparing countries is wrong, in my opinion.
We can say that in Central or Latin America there were a lot of countries that went through dictatorships. And then there were social movements, which were also very strong, because only very strong social movements could make a revolution from a dictatorship to a democratic society. And those who are today’s human rights activists in these countries are the children of those who once defeated the dictatorship. And they have a legacy of history, practice and the psychology of struggle, and they very effectively implement it in their daily work.
What seems to me very curious in the post-Soviet space is that here these are still very recent events, and therefore very often there are two generations in the same movement: children of former dissidents and those who were dissidents in the Soviet Union. And these two generations coexist alongside.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that in some post-Soviet countries those who protect human rights still face hate speech, as well as law enforcement practices and some methods of combating dissent, which are completely recognizable from Soviet times. And due to these same reasons, it can be seen in these countries that human rights defenders are often on the frontier of political activity, or politics — on the frontier of human rights work. This mixture is very characteristic of the post-Soviet space.

Michel Forst and Sacha Koulaeva

“The main message that I learned from my work is that there are no completely deadlock situations, even if they seem so.
Sometimes it seems that the situation is absolutely unpromising and it’s deadlocked, but something happens through some completely intangible channels and the situation changes dramatically for the better. And this must never be forgotten, no matter how gloomy reality seems.
Because these little fireflies of hope, which seem so insignificant, sometimes become real agents of change that grow very quickly and very quickly change the situation. Therefore, we must pay attention to these fireflies.”

Michel Forst stresses that he still remembers situations when almost all countries, for example, in Latin America, were the most terrible dictatorships. Now, some of these countries are absolutely democratic, and human rights activists work there as if they were in Europe, some are on the way to this change.

Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, during a meeting with Belarusian human rights activists. April 16, 2019

“But in general, the situation is so far from what it was a few decades ago, which was impossible to imagine back then. And no one would ever believe it then. Perhaps this can serve as an example for people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that situations are developing much faster for the better than it may seem.
And, for example, if we talk about recent developments around the world, we can note the number of young people who took to the streets for climate change and linked their actions with human rights, and say that in fact these two struggles now go hand in hand. This shows that both climate and human rights are a common human property. Young people treat it accordingly and in some way take over the watch from older generations. Therefore, human rights protection is not an endangered activity, and there is also a very important pledge of hope about it.”

Michel Frost has been the UN Special Rapporteur since 2014. His mandate will end in the summer of 2020, but before that he is expected to submit two more reports on the situation of human rights defenders.
In December 2018, Michel Forst presented his annual periodic report, which includes a section on Belarus. And in February 2019, he presented a report on the situation of women human rights defenders at the UN Human Rights Council.


Viasna member detained among protests in Brest

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

http://spring96.org/en/news/92655 2019 2019-04-15T15:32:44+0300 2019-04-15T15:32:44+0300 2019-04-15T15:32:45+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/uladimi_vialichkin_br.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Human rights activist Uladzimir Vialichkin

At least 10 people, including human rights activist Uladzimir Vialichkin, were arrested on Friday in Brest for their alleged involvement in a series of rallies protesting the construction of a battery factory, which local environmental groups view as a potential hazard for the city.
Human rights lawyer Raman Kisliak says the activists were arrested on Friday night, so that they could be held in detention until Monday.
Eight more people were arrested on Sunday after another protest against the harmful industry. Two of them, including blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau, were soon released without charges.
The others faced charges of illegal protesting (Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code) and were brought to the Lieninski District Court this morning.
Viasna activist Uladzimir Vialichkin spent two nights in pre-trial detention, but was released this morning, together with at least 6 more persons, after he requested his lawyer’s involvement in the case. The activist is expected to appear in court on April 18.

Environmental protest in Brest. April 14, 2019
Over the past few weeks, police have intensified pressure on the opponents of the Brest battery factory. Apart from numerous administrative trials and ensuing fines and short prison terms, the authorities opened a criminal investigation involving one of the protesters, Maisei Mazko, who was held for three days over alleged possession of ammunition. The activist and his son were eventually released, but Mazko is still named a suspect in the case.