Amnesty International today condemned the closure by the Belarusian authorities of one of Belarus’ most prominent human rights organization, Spring-96, as a further attempt to suppress what remains of the country’s human rights community.

2003 2003-10-30T10:00:00+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Public Statement

AI Index: EUR 49/006/2003 (Public)
News Service No: 248
29 October 2003

Belarus: And then there were none

Amnesty International today condemned the closure by the Belarusian
authorities of one of Belarus’ most prominent human rights organization,
Spring-96, as a further attempt to suppress what remains of the country’s
human rights community.

"Throughout 2003 human rights defenders in Belarus have faced a
heightened campaign of harassment and intimidation by the authorities aimed
at silencing them. Spring-96 was yet another human rights organization to
fall victim to this deplorable campaign yesterday," Amnesty International
stated.

The ruling of the Belarusian Supreme Court was met by a
peaceful sit-down protest by eight members of Spring-96 who were arrested
by police but later released. It is expected that they will be tried later
today for staging an unsanctioned protest action and may face up to 15
days’ imprisonment. If imprisoned, Amnesty International will consider them
to be prisoners of conscience.

In recent months a disturbing number of non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), directly and indirectly engaged in the promotion and
defence of human rights in Belarus, have been closed by a judiciary whose
independence has been repeatedly called into question by the international
community.

"Spring-96 was closed by the Belarusian Supreme Court on the
slightest of pretexts and for the most spurious of reasons. The ulterior
motive behind the rationale behind yesterday’s ruling should be apparent to
all," Amnesty International stated.

As in the case of several other human rights NGOs, the court
ruled that Spring-96 had violated several provisions of a highly
controversial law which tightly regulates the activities of civil society.
In one instance, the court reportedly ruled that in rendering legal
assistance to individuals who were not members of the human rights
organization, Spring-96 had violated the law.

In early September another leading human rights organization,
Legal Assistance to the Population, whose staff members have been active in
determining the fate of Belarus "disappeared" opposition figures, was shut
down on grounds equally as spurious.

In the month of August alone two NGO resource centres, Civic
Initiatives and Ratusha, were liquidated by the Belarusian authorities,
while the influential Belarusian Helsinki Committee received an official
warning from the Ministry of Justice for omitting the quotation marks from
the organization’s name on its official letterheads and organizational
symbol.

"It would be impossible to conceive of more trivial reasons to
justify the suppression of Belarus’ human rights community than those used
by the Belarusian authorities. In light of these repeated attacks any
claims that Belarus is committed to human rights and the rule of law is
farcical," Amnesty International stated.

The impending closure of these human rights organizations has
drawn repeated criticism from a range of international bodies including the
European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in
Europe.

Amnesty International is urging the Belarusian authorities to
allow human rights defenders in the country to exercise their rights of
association and peaceful assembly without fear of obstruction, harassment,
intimidation or fear of reprisals.

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