Criminal Prosecution for "Discrediting the Republic of Belarus"
Vienna and Minsk, 30 November 2005. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) are deeply concerned about a new draft law that would damage the work of human rights defenders and other segments of Belarusian civil society.
In its first reading of the law on November 25, the lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament passed amendments to the Belarusian Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, increasing penalties for “actions aimed against a person and public security”. This bill was submitted to the parliament marked “urgent” only two days before by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The vague wording of the proposed amendments pave the way to wide discretionary powers for authorities to interpret legitimate human rights activities as illegal attempts to discredit or harm the Belarusian state. We ask the parliament to reject the bill and the Belarusian President to renounce his plans to further reduce the narrow space left for criticism in Belarus ahead of the Presidential elections of 2006.
Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the IHF said: “If adopted this law could be interpreted to render human rights monitoring and reporting as well as any kind of criticism of authorities illegal.”
The new law would add new articles to the Criminal Code, increasing penalty for participation in civil society actions and demonstrations. In particular:
• If passed, a new article would be added to the Criminal Code, on “Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”. In the proposed law, "discrediting" means “fraudulent representation of political, economic, social, military or international situation of the Republic of Belarus, the legal status of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus or its government agencies”. Such actions are to be punished by arrest of up to six months or imprisonment of up to two years.
• Article 193-1 on "Illegal Organization of Activities of a Public Association, Foundation or Participation in Their Activities" envisages that organizing activities or participating in activities of organizations or foundations whose liquidation or suspension has been decided by Belarusian courts or judicial authorities, are to be punished by a fine or arrest up to six months, or by imprisonment of up to two years.
• Article 293 of the draft law is accompanied by a regulation according to which "education or other forms of preparation” for mass riots, or financing such actions are to be punished by arrest of up to six months or imprisonment of up to three years. On the basis of new Article 342 training or other preparation of people for participation in group actions, which grossly violate public order, as well as financing or other material support of such activities, can lead to imprisonment of up to two years.
• According to the draft bill the punishment for acts of "public appeals for seizure of power or forcible change of the constitutional system" would be increased to range from six months of arrest up to three years of imprisonment.
• Calls addressed to foreign states to perform actions damaging external security of Belarus, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as dissemination of materials containing such appeals, are to be punished by arrest, the term ranging from six month up to three years. In case these calls would be disseminated by the mass media, the punishment is stricter - deprivation of liberty for a period of two to five years.
The IHF and the BHC deplore the proposed legal changes on the grounds that they provide for increased harassment of civil society activists and visible attempts to further limit the space left for independent voices to make opinions heard.
For further information:
IHF Executive Director, Aaron Rhodes, Tel: +43 – (0)1 – 408 88 22 or +43 – (0) 676 – 635 66 12
Dzmitry Markusheuski, Press Officer, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Tel:+ 375 – 29 – 709 5702
IHF Press Officer, Henriette Schroeder, Tel: +43 – (0) 1- 408 88 22 or +43 – (0) 676 – 725 48 29