Ales Bialiatski: The process of registration is of no less importance to us as human rights activists as the fact of registration.
Ales Bialiatski, elected head of the human rights organization Nasha Viasna that was denied the official registration by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, sums up the process of registration and shares the plans for the future.
‘Mr. Ales, what can you say about the verdict of the Supreme Court: was it 100% predictable for you, or did you still have any hopes?
- When we planned our third registration attempt, we had several aims. Pitifully enough, the aim to get registered was not the foremost. After the previous registration denial it was clear to us that most probably we would get another denial next time. Why? Because during the previous refusal of the Ministry of Justice to give the state registration to Nasha Viasna I happened to be in Brussels, at discussion of the implementation by the Belarusian authorities of the demands that were set forth by the EU during the monitoring period. It was the time when the question of freezing or continuing the sanctions was being solved. This issue was quite important for the Belarusian authorities and they took all efforts to get these sanctions frozen or abolished at all. However, they dared not to give the registration to us, though I know it for sure that the foreign diplomatic corps had talks with an MFA representative, where the question of Nasha Viasna was raised. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution on registration of our association. Nevertheless, all these circumstances did not withhold the Belarusian authorities from this step.
Taking into consideration that the authorities have received another determent from the EU and that the registration of Nasha Viasna did not become as categorical a question as the registration of the movement For Freedom, it was no use hoping for registration on the second attempt.
Nevertheless, the monitoring period is going on. That’s why it was very important for us to again try to show this mechanism of the continuous state crackdown on the freedom of association in Belarus and the injustice of this mechanism.
Thus, in this case the process of registration was of no less importance for us as human rights defenders as the fact of registration. That’s why our attitude was very serious, though we understood that we had almost no chances to obtain the registration.
- During the process of registration the founders of Nasha Viasna repeatedly stated their intention to get a wide publicity in the international community…
- Yes, one of our aims was also to draw the attention of the international community. We tried to raise this topic, so that the international community would not stop its demands for democratization of Belarus during its contacts with the official Minsk. It seems to me that at present we succeed in it, at least to a certain extent.
The question of the registration of Nasha Viasna was also voiced in the PACE resolution, that cannot be ignored by the Belarusian authorities, as they want to receive a guest status at the Council of Europe. It was very important for us that the registration of our association was one of the demands of the Council of Europe. The same can me said about the statement on the situation in Belarus, adopted on 16 July at the sitting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. In this document the EU condemns the registration denial to Nasha Viasna. The question of our registration was discussed during the dialogue on human rights between the Council of Europe and Belarus. Meanwhile, it was one of the special, framework questions. We talked with representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations, first of all the OSCE.
In addition, Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights, was not let in Belarus on the eve of the trial at the Supreme Court. I would say that it is a bad sign for the international community, showing the level of openness of the Belarusian state in such issues as the development of the civil society and the freedom of association in Belarus, that are treated quite ambiguously by the authorities. There they demonstrated their narrow-mindedness and non-democracy. This alarming sign was noted by virtually all international structures that monitored the situation in Belarus.
-Have your plans changed after the last registration denial?
- During the registration process, we, representatives of the human rights association made two important statements. The first – we have acted, act and will continue acting irrespective of the registration, the second – that the third registration attempt will be the last in the present situation concerning the relations between the authorities and the civil society. We emphasize that we have made everything we could in this situation. I think that the materials of the trial that will be uploaded to our website and sent to all interested international organizations, and the evaluation of the international expert who attended the trial, will confirm that nowadays in Belarus the right association, guaranteed by the Constitution and the international documents that were ratified by Belarus, is strictly limited. We won’t give up speaking about it with stopping our registration attempts. On the contrary, we will have a well-defined position that can be changed only by progress in the question of our registration by the authorities. We have trice lent a helping hand to the Belarusian authorities, proposing civilized relations (and it is the registration that witnesses such relations between the authorities and NGOs), and each time they put a stone in it. We will no longer make any friendly moves. Instead, we will wait for such moves of the authorities in our direction.
- How do Viasna members feel about the possibility of being punished under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code for their activities?
- On one hand, we can say that the use of this article against civil activists in Belarus has been frozen, though we cannot state that this freezing is complete. However, we don’t’ see such escalation as in 2006-2007. On the other side, there is always the threat of reprisals against activists of unregistered civil organizations. The latest actions of the prosecutor’s office against members of religious cults and activists of the Young Front (we are watching what is going on with Mikhail Illlin in Brest) show that the authorities are keeping this instrument at hand and can start whole-scale reprisals against civil society activists at any time. That’s why we shouldn’t relax completely. The only thing that can satisfy and soothe us is amendment of the Criminal Code and crossing out of this article from the Criminal Code.
- But the authorities keep on speaking about the improvement of the situation in the third sector and the liberalization in the sphere of civil associations. They have ‘simplified’ the procedure of registration…
- What concerns the easing of the procedure of registration, it is a complete bluffing. It seems to me that the commentaries by Yury Chavusau explain well enough that in fact these formal changes have nothing to do with easing the registration process for NGOs. On the contrary, it is repackaging of the repressive means that have been used unlawfully by the Ministry of Justice.
The relations between the authorities and NGOs remain completely unsatisfactory. And, as it seems to me, the course for restriction of civil society activism, chosen by the authorities ten years ago, is flourishing and is consciously continued by them. Pitifully enough, the Belarusian authorities perceive NGOs not as a partner in the development of the civil society, but as a rival and a potential enemy, who must be fought, destroyed and discriminated. That’s why, on a large scale, nothing has changed in our situation, and there are no reasons for speaking of any considerable, serious changes.
-Does this situation pose new challenges to the work of human rights defenders?
- The Belarusian human rights activists have a wide array of tasks. Human rights are systematically violated in Belarus. The authorities have created a severe totalitarian situation that differs greatly from all other European state systems. I would say it resembles the post-Stalin system of civil initiative suppression. We state that human rights in Belarus are violated on a system level, and it concerns not only civil and political rights, but also the economical ones. These violations concern a much larger part of the society than civil and political activists. Such situation is very dangerous. First of all, for the society that stays bound hand and foot. Secondly, for the state, as the situation can get tense any time and the society will start fighting for its natural rights that are massively and systematically violated by the Belarusian state.
Pitifully enough, we are fighting against the consequences of such violations. And loudly speak about the reasons for them. These reasons lie in the conscious poly of the Belarusian state, aimed at restriction of the rights of the Belarusian citizens. That’s why we will continue out work, and there is a wealth of such work in Belarus.