Open Letter of Norwegian Helsinki Committee against the arrest of Pavel Mazheyka
HE President Alexander Lukashenko
The Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus
Fax +375 17 2260610
Oslo, 4 November 2004
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply disturbed to learn that the journalist Pavel Mazheika, the Head of the Hrodna branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, was sentenced to 7 days of jail by the Leninski Court of Hrodna on November 1, 2004. He was found guilty of violating the order of organising or conducting meetings or pickets according to Article 167 – 1 part 1 of the Code of Administrative offences. Pavel Mazheika was sentenced for the participation in a 12 minutes long picket carried out by five journalists on October 4, 2004 protesting the sentence of Alena Rawbetskaya, the editor-in-chief of the Hrodna based newspaper Birzha Informatsiyi. Two other journalists, Anatol and Natalya Makushyn, who participated in the same picket, were fined for the same offence yesterday.
Pavel Mazsheika, who refuses to accept the legality of the sentence, has declared a hunger strike. Until 2002 Mazheika was a journalist in the now closed down newspaper Pahonia. That year Mazheika and Mikola Markevich, the editor-in-chief of the same newspaper, were sentenced to 1 and 1 ½ years of restricted freedom for violation of the first part of the Article 367 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus – for “defamation of the President of the republic of Belarus”, in a trial that caused both national and international outcry for its disrespect for international standards of freedom of expression and right to a fair trial.
The decision of the Leninski Court on November 1 is not in itself a novelty, but rather another manifestation of the policy of your Presidency to suppress freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly in the attempt to suppress opposition against the current Government. This has been demonstrated by the closure of numerous independent media-outlets, previous arrests and closure of political parties and nongovernmental organisations. This has also been demonstrated by the fact that more than fifty peaceful participants in pickets have been detained and convicted since the official result of the elections of October 15 were announced. Some of them, among them a leader of a central opposition party, were also beaten by the police.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee calls on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to repression of its own population by freeing all prisoners convicted on political charges, including Mazheika, and bring legislation in conformity with international standards and conventions signed by Belarus. In particular, the legislation must clearly secure the right to assembly and to free expression of opinion, even though this opinion may not be shared by the Government of Belarus.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee would like to draw your attention to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Belarus is a state party: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression”. Furthermore, we would like to draw your attention to the ICCPR Article 21: “The right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee urges Belarusian authorities to bring both its legislation and its conduct in compliance with these commitments.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee,
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus; fax (+375 17) 227 4521
The Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik
The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Petersen
Chairman of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs, of the Norwegian Parliament (Storting), Thorbjørn Jagland