ON 5 JUNE NGOs BRIEFED AMBASSADORS AND JOURNALISTS ABOUT SIMULTANEOUS LIQUIDATION OF NGOs IN BELARUS
The briefing took place at Planeta hotel and aimed at providing first hand information about the situation
Chairperson of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialatski presided at the meeting.
Ales Milinkevich, chair of Hrodna resource center Ratusha was the first to take the floor: “Our resource center was created 7 years ago. Over the years of its work, Ratusha has become the center of the network, which unites over 130 non-governmental organizations. The main goal of our organization was to support public activities in Hrodna region. We provide NGOs with a number of services – information, consultations, finding partners, etc. Ratusha has a center of support to local press. We provided NGOs with an opportunity to use the Internet. Some time ago Ratusha initiated creation of a human rights organizations’ network in Hrodna region. That was exactly the moment when we started to have troubles, when we moved on from educational activities to human rights work. The authorities consider human rights sphere a political activity. The authorities were also not happy about our support to independent local editions in small towns. Our office was searched a couple of times. During the presidential election campaign of 2001 the police seized all our office equipment. The reason for the events we are here to discuss is that the NGO has infringed legislation about polygraphic activities. We’ve had the equipment since 1997. We made no secret out of it. Last year the police came to the office and drew up a report that we were using the equipment without a license. However, the legislation requires a license only from commercial organizations. We are a non-commercial organization. This year we’ve been fined just for keeping the risograph in the office. We’ve made attempts to acquire a license for a year. Then we decided to hand it over to a university. But the Ministry of Justice had a very formal approach. They did not even care about the course of the events. That’s the story of events, which led to the suit on Ratusha liquidation. I think we haven’t broken the law”.
Viktar Karniyenka, head of Homel regional NGO “Civic Initiatives”: “Our organization has over 400 members. We are also a resource center. We cover all 23 districts of Homel region with our activities. Over 100 civic groups used the services of our organization, various school and students’ groups among them. That’s why liquidation of our center may be considered as the extreme stage of suppressing public activities in our region. Before the Justice Ministry filed a suit on liquidation of our NGO, we went through numerous examinations of our activities, which all ended with certificates that everything is in order. But one check-up was followed by another one, The last examination, which took place in February 2003, is quite a show-case. It was done by the Regional Tax Inspection, which had no reprimands to make. But the next day the auditor ringed us and said in a trembling voice some mistake had occurred – “could you please return the document I have issued”. Of course, we did not give it back. They resumed the audit at a very interesting moment – during the visit of US Ambassador Michael Kozak to Homel. Just when Ambassador Kozak was in the office of our center, the Regional Justice Department and tax inspection came to have an audit. This is a good evidence that the audit was not a regular one”.
Andrei Kazakevich, representative of Youth Christian Social Union: “I would like to stress a certain irrationality of the authorities. What happens is, in fact, suppressing civic activities into informal sphere, where they can’t be either controlled by the state or serve the community properly. That’s instead of acting openly and legally”.