Front Line joins Stop 193.1! campaign
Front Line calls for the repeal of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus in support of the campaign “STOP 193.1!” lead by the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs, the largest Belarusian coalition of NGOs. Article 193.1 criminalises any independent human rights initiative in Belarus and gives state officials the power to stop activities of human rights organisations at any time.
In 2005, provisions were introduced into the Belarusian Criminal Code which laid a legal foundation for the criminal prosecution of non-registered NGOs. According to Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, the “illegal organisation or activities of public associations, religious groups or foundations or participation in their activities” is punishable by six month to two years in prison.
Article 193.1 criminalises any independent human rights initiative in Belarus and gives state officials the power to stop activities of human rights organisations at any time and to put human rights defenders in jail.
In its call to join the campaign “STOP 193.1!”, the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs says: Over the period 2006-2009 seventeen members of unregistered associations have been sentenced to imprisonment or fines under Article 193.1. No case in the courts was resolved in favour of the persons accused under Article 193.1. Also hundreds of members of unregistered associations have been questioned by the State bodies, many of whom had received warnings from prosecutors who demanded that they stop their activities in unregistered organisations.
To this day, only one independent human rights organisation, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, is officially registered in Belarus. Many Belarusian human rights organisations which have struggled for legal status have been denied official registration many times for spurious reasons.
On 28 May 2009, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus refused to register the human rights organisation Nasha Viasna (Our spring) for the third time.
Nasha Viasna is the new name of the Human Rights Centre Viasna (Spring), which was closed down by the Supreme Court following a request by the Ministry of Justice on 28 November 2003 in the context of widespread repression of civil society.
Nevertheless, members of Viasna have continued to carry out their legitimate human rights work and to assist victims of different human rights violations. The Human Rights Center Viasna is one of the most active Belarusian human rights organisations, specialising in particular in the defence, protection and promotion of political and social rights.
On 9 April 2009, the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Belarusian Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs for the second time. On 3 June 2009, the Supreme Court confirmed the Ministry of Justice's decision to deny the Assembly’s registration.
On 15 April 2008, in its resolution 1606, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe urged the Belarusian authorities to “repeal (...) Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code, criminalising activities of non-registered associations”.
On 9 October 2008, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution that urges the Belarusian authorities to make the “necessary changes to the Belarus Criminal Code by abolishing Articles 193”. However, these recommendations have not been implemented by the Belarusian authorities.
Font Line believes that Article 193.1 should be repealed because it restricts the work of legitimate human rights organisations and contradicts provisions set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is party.