WHO IS TO DEFEND DEFENDERS?
WHO IS TO DEFEND DEFENDERS?
On 15 July Independent Society of Legal Research (ISLR) received a written warning from the Justice Department of Minsk executive committee, dated July 10.
The NGO was warned for participation in trials over non-governmental organizations. In particular, ISLR represented the position of the public during the court hearings on liquidation of Hrodna regional NGO Ratusha. Simultaneously, the authorities continue examination of Human Rights Center "Viasna" and Legal Initiative NGOs – organizations, which render assistance to NGOs which face closure. All above-mentioned organizations are active participants of Our Solidarity campaign, initiated by members if the Assembly of Democratic NGOs.
The warning to ISLR reads: “The Justice Department of Minsk city executive committee found out, that member of the ISLR board O. I. Smalanka participated as a public representative in the hearing of Hrodna regional court on the closure of NGO Ratusha on 22 May 2003 and on the case of complaint of Smarhon NGO “Human Rights House””.
The officials think, this fact violates the NGO’s Statute and the Law on Non-governmental organizations. The courts ruled to allow ISLR members to participate in the hearings as public representatives. However, the Justice department of Minsk executive committee decided, that this violated Art 72 of the Code of Civic Procedures (this article deals with persons, who can be representatives in court). The Justice department did not think it necessary to appeal against court decisions, illegal to their mind. Instead, it decided to use administrative measures, imposing a sanction on the NGO. Alena Tankachova, head of ISLR, states “the organization will continue its activity in courts on the cases of non-governmental organizations, even if we have to use the formula of “civic disobedience”. We are going to continue to do everything possible, everything we can do with our professional and civic position, to change the repressive enforcement practice against non-governmental organizations. We do not intend to reject our activities and goals, which united us into an NGO. Moreover, we are professionally convinced in the lawfulness of our actions”.
ISLR is going to appeal against the warning in court. Besides that, the NGO members are going to address the Minister of Justice and inform him about their position. They will address the Constitutional Court to inform about the limitation of the right to freedom of associations, and the UN Commission of Human Rights to inform about new facts of administrative pressure on non-governmental organizations.
Having warned ISLR, the authorities started examinations of the organizations, who helped the “cleansing victims” – Youth Christian Social Union, Ratusha, Civic Initiatives, and Varuta. Justice Ministry expert Fishkina studies cases of Legal Initiative and Human Rights Center "Viasna" NGOs, to find out if their activities meet the legislation requirements. Examinations of the NGOs’ head offices started immediately after examinations of their regional structures.
Yury Chavusaw, coordinator of the collective defense system, considers the recent actions of the Ministry of Justice the logical continuation of pressure on non-governmental organizations. “NGOs, attacked now, have been defending the “cleansing victims”, they render competent legal assistance to other NGOs, and participate in Our Solidarity campaign. In July the Justice Ministry started a mass examination of non-governmental organizations – dozens of NGOs received demands to present reports on their activities to the Ministry. I assume, soon courts might hear new cases of liquidation. That’s why the Justice Ministry attempts to deprive the future “victims” of legal defense”, says Yury Chavusaw.
Press Release of OUR SOLIDARITY campaign