Supreme Court Leaves in Force Warnings to Oppositional Parties
In the end of August Belarusian oppositional political parties had not only to actively prepare to the election, but also to fruitlessly defend their rights at court. On 23-25 August the Supreme Court of Belarus considered the complaint of the BPF Party with the demand to set aside the warning to the party that was issued by the Ministry of Justice. On 25 and 26 August it considered similar complaint of United Civil Party, on 27 August – Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada and on 31 August – Party of Communists of Belarus.
The thing is that on 1 July the Ministry of Justice issued warnings to four abovementioned parties – BPF, UCP, BSDH and PCB. All the warnings were composed in the same way. They were full of elementary grammatical and logical mistakes. There it was stated that “on the basis of the information that was submitted to the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus it was found out that “People’s Coalition 5+” (…) in the pages of two numbers of the “Narodnaya Volia” newspaper illegally urged citizens of the Republic of Belarus to take part in the unauthorized picket “Chain of Concerned Readers” at 6 p.m. on 10 June 2004 in the Square of October Revolution (there’s no such square in Belarus – author’s remark) in support of the newspaper. The picked was held in the specified time and the party (in each case there was put the name of the party to which the warning was addressed) took part in it.”
The four abovementioned party simultaneously received letters from the Ministry of Justice with the demand to “judicially register (institutionalize) the activity of “People’s coalition 5+”, because, according to the explanatory dictionary of Russian language, composed by S.I. Ozhegov and N.Yu. Shvedova, coalition is the union (of states, parties) for achievement of common aim. Analogical explanation is given in other dictionaries”. According to the letter, the legislation of the Republic of Belarus allowed to establish unions (associations) of parties, public associations and other juridical bodies and the activity of unregistered unions (associations) was prohibited. “Simultaneously we propose to suspend your participation in the activity of the unregistered formation till the question of its registration is solved according to the established order. Otherwise the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus will consider the participation of the party in the activity of the abovementioned party as a gross violation of the legislation about political parties.”
These warnings and letters of the Ministry of Justice seem to be composed on political order with the aim to freeze the activity of the most influential oppositional parties. Nevertheless, the political parties decided to complain against these activities of the Ministry of Justice, without much hope for the independence of the court system of the country and positive results.
The first trial concerned the BPF complaint and was lead by judge Zhukowskaya with participation of prosecutor Mazowski. The Ministry of Justice was represented by Neanila Fishkina. The BPF Party was represented by the lawyers Uladzimir Labkovich and Yury Chavusaw. They stated that the chain of concerned readers was by no means an unauthorized assembly: no one was detained during it, nobody was warned about responsibility for participation in unauthorized action and nobody was punished. Besides, political parties, including BPF, didn’t urge people to take part in the action – it was the urge of People’s coalition “5+” and the party didn’t join it like organization – this coalition consisted of citizens who are members of different parties and public associations. The lawyers proved it all at the trial and presented to the court the minutes of the governing body of the party that didn’t contain any information about joining to the coalition or organization of “Chain of Concerned Readers”.
The same evidence was presented during the court consideration of the complaint of United Civil Party. The documentation for the past half of year witnessed that the party didn’t decided for joining People’s coalition “5+” as juridical body and didn’t urge to participation in the “Chain of Concerned Readers”.
The Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor’s office built its evidence on the materials that, according to the lawyers, couldn’t be considered as evidence – printed excerpts from Internet and mass media publications. These materials contained information about establishment and activity of the “People’s coalition 5+” and interviews of leaders of parties where they spoke on behalf of the People’s coalition “5+”. According to the Ministry of Justice, in these interviews the politicians expressed not their position, but the views of their parties. That’s why there’s no surprise that the court expressed the opinion that it would be better for the BPF Party to keep away from its head Vintsuk Viachorka who spoke on behalf of the coalition several times. The lawyers believe that the party was punished for non-interference with private life of its members (such as chairman), despite the law provision that parties are not responsible for deeds of their members.
Besides, the Law “About political parties” doesn’t demand obligatory state registration of associations (unions) of political parties. The Chamber of Representatives didn’t adopt any new versions of this law on the eve of the Parliamentary election. Presidential Decree that was issued on 11 September 2003 demands state registration for unions (associations) of political parties. It doesn’t include the term “coalition”. What concerns the understanding of this term by workers of the Ministry of Justice: they should have consulted not the dictionary that was composed by philologist Ozhegov, but a special political-scientific dictionary. For instance, the encyclopedic dictionary “Politology” that was edited by Yu.I. Averyanow and issued in 1999, gives the following explanation: “Coalition – agreement, elaborated by parties or public activists for joint actions”. So, “coalition” has no features of “union (association): there are no super-party organs, no common program, no statute, no rules of general cooperation. It is agreement about interaction during elections, which can be by no means subject to registration, even according to our legislation.
Despite all evidences and obvious incompetence of workers of the Ministry of Justice, complaints of BPF, UCP and BSHD weren’t satisfied. It’s easy to predict the fact of PCB complaint.
Representatives of BPF Party speak about their impressions of the trial:
Uldzimir Labkovich: “This decision is evidently politically motivated. It proves that in our country there’s no independent court system and no independent prosecution. The authorities seem to have begum liquidation of political parties on the eve of the election, which is the next step after liquidation of Belarusian Labor Party. According to the sociological investigations, People’s coalition “5+” is one of the most influential and popular alternatives to Lukashenka’s administrative list on the eve of the election. Since this moment every mentioning of “5+” will be automatically associated with the political parties that have joined it. Now they can liquidate parties even without warnings, as they did with public associations, using article 57 of the Civil Code that provides liquidation of juridical bodies for rude and systematic violations of the law. The law doesn’t explain what rude violation is and judges explain it as they like. The Ministry of Justice has already warned that if parties continue making statements on behalf of “5+”, they will make “rude violation of the law, sufficient for liquidation of the party. That’s why the next step in our country can become liquidation of legal democratic opposition and multi-party system.”
Yury Chavusaw: “The last time when court set aside issued warning was several years ago. Now there are no illusions, especially if we take into consideration that it is evidently pre-electoral order with the aim to make parties correct their activity or at least hush up the activity of wide coalition, established with the aim to win the election. The warning is left in force, but we can say that the Ministry of Justice failed to reach its aims, as far as all parties are still consolidated and work within single public initiative on participation in the election. We will only try to use more versatile formulation, trying to escape warnings and liquidations.”
P.S. On 31 August there was the first case when a person was punished for activity of People’s coalition “5+” (Article 167.10 of the Code of Administrative Violations). Judge of Zhlobin District Court Yarmolchyk fined vice-head of Homel regional organization of United Civil Party Uladzimir Katsora 30 basic values.