Valiantsin Stefanovic: “Counteracting Extremism” Law Is Another Legal Ground to Fight the Regime’s Opponents

2007 2007-01-22T10:00:00+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On January 21 the law “About Counteracting Extremism” came into force

It’s worth mentioning that the parliament considered the draft law twice. In the beginning the draft law was passed by the Chamber of Representatives on October 11, 2006. However, the Council of the Republic turned the draft law down on October 20. The ground was that the law authors failed to define the criteria, according to which an organization might be considered “extremist”. Member of the Council of the Republic Charhinets also indicated some flaws in the bill.

However, on December 14 the Chamber of Representatives passed the law in the same version again. On December 20 it was approved by the Council of the Republic practically without any debate.

The bill was presented by chairperson of the permanent commission for international affairs and national security Charhinets. Basically he limited his speech to the statement that the President asked both Chambers to approve the law before January 1, 2007.

During the hearing KGB chief Stsiapan Sukharenka described the draft law as “very necessary”, especially on the eve of the events, which, according to him, were being prepared by the opponents of the regime. In particular, he pointed out that during the local elections the opposition forces planned to hold termless actions of civic disobedience, the final goal of which was to overthrow the government. In reality, it turned out that the law was not in effect during the local election. It came into force only now.

The new law describes the notions of “extremism”, and “extremist activity”, determines the basic principles and directions of counteracting extremism, establishes the bodies of fighting extremism and their powers, and describes measures of responsibility for displays of extremism. Among them there are: suspension of an organization; recognizing an organization registered in the Republic of Belarus, an extremist one, its closure and a ban on its activities; ban on the activities of foreign and international extremist organizations, counteracting publication and distribution of extremist materials; preventing extremist activity at mass events, counteracting public appeals of organization leaders to carry out extremist activity.

Human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovic comments on the peculiarities of the new law: “we are deeply concerned about the fact that KGB insisted on passing the law and stressed its urgency and necessity. Besides that, the bill was passed in its original edition, despite the fact that the Council of the Republic rejected it and send it back to the Chamber of Representatives.

Firstly, the law does not introduce any responsibility for activity of extremist organizations, it only gives a definition of what is meant by extremism and extremist activity, extremist organization and extremist literature. However, I have certain doubts about the very definition of extremism. Besides fomentation of different kinds of hostility, it mentions “organizing mass disorders and hooliganism motivated by political and ideological hostility”. Analyzing the case of Alexander Kazulin, I would remind you that his actions were also qualified as hooliganism. Mass events organized by the opposition forces are also usually qualified as group actions that violate the public order. Andrei Klimau, Mikola Statkevich, and Paval Seviarynets were found guilty of that and sentenced to various terms. In the future the authorities might qualify peaceful mass actions of the opposition accompanied with police provocations as displays of extremism. I think they have just created another legal ground for fighting the political opponents of the regime. The authorities might purposefully label political parties and NGOs, pro-democratic groups and movements, which use non-violent methods in their struggle with the regime, as extremists. We have the right to oppose the government, if we do not like its policies – with non-violent methods. The new law on extremism might be used against these people.

Secondly, the new law does not provide for any sanctions. The only legal mechanism it introduces is suspension and closure of organizations by court, if they are recognized extremist. However, this is not new. The same provisions can be found in the Law on non-governmental organizations and in the appropriate articles of the Criminal Code. That is why, as I have said earlier, there are enough legal grounds for preventing extremism even without additional laws: we have articles in the Criminal Code for fomenting national and religious hostility, for urging to unconstitutional violent capture of power and illegal military groups – all that is already described in the Criminal Code.

Basing on some public statements of the KGB, I have all grounds to believe that in our conditions the new law might be used against political opponents of the regime. For example, earlier KGB in its reports often described such organizations as Zubr and Young Front as “extremist”.

At the same time, adoption of the Law “about counteracting extremism” could be justified if, for example, it contained a clearer definition of what is, for instance, ideology of Nazism, what responsibility one should bear for demonstration of such symbols, etc. There is nothing of the kind in the law! It only says that propaganda of Nazism and public demonstration of Nazi symbols are also displays of extremism. However, the law does not explain, what it is. At present in Belarus there are no legal grounds to punish people who spread propaganda of fascist and Nazi symbols. There is responsibility for using unregistered symbols, but only during mass events. Besides that, the police uses that article to punish people who wear Belarusian national symbols as white-red-white flags. At the same time, if someone wears swastika on the street, they have no law to call them to account.

Why then pass a law on extremism if it does not answer the main questions?

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