No progress in relations between civil society and state, says NGO Assembly
The Belarusian Assembly of NGOs has issued its preliminary assessment of the regime’s activities in terms of improving the situation in the field of NGOs in the context of expiry of another period of EU sanctions towards Belarus.
During a briefing for representatives of international missions and journalists, Siarhei Matskevich, head of the Assembly’s Working Group, stated that there is no progress in respect of the three issues highlighted by the European Union – the repeal of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, the obstacles experienced by NGOs applying for state registration and the introduction of reduced rent rates for them.
The Assembly’s lawyer Yury Chavusau, having conducted an elaborate analysis of the practice of registration of Belarusian NGOs and political parties in March-September 2009, arrived at a conclusion that neither the Ministry of Justice nor any other registration authority has changed its attitude towards the issue. In 2009 alone, dozens of Belarusian NGOs have been denied registration, including Nasha Viasna (twice), Brest Viasna (three times), youth public associations Young Social Democrats, Novy Kurs, Modes etc. In the majority of the above-mentioned cases, the denials are disputable and politically-motivated. Belarusian courts, in their turn, never sustained the claims against the decisions by the Ministry of Justice.
Speaking about the cases of criminal prosecution under Article 193.1, human rights expert Valiantsin Stefanovich mentioned 5 lawsuits brought against members of unregistered Belarusian NGOs, as well as 17 persons convicted of illegal membership since 2006 when the Article came into effect. He also commented on the recent information about the Ministry’s readiness to reduce responsibility under the Article, saying that he ‘would strongly object to this kind of transformation, since the Ministry of Justice proposes either prosecuting members of closed down NGOs or introducing administrative responsibility for the offence.’
Aleh Hulak, Chair of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, spoke on the concept of development of the Belarusian civil community worked out by the Assembly, stressing that it is only a sequence of general principles, aimed at minimizing the opposition between the state and the society and finding ways of constructive work.
The Belarusian authorities still have three months ahead to take actual steps towards the civilized democratic world, says Siarhei Matskevich.