Valiantsin Stefanovich: situation of human rights during the last six months leads to deplorable conclusions
Recently mass media have started publishing the statements by some European officials about the positive tendencies and the political liberalization in our country. In particular, at the beginning of this week Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ukraine and Belarus, talked about ‘a certain progress’ on the democratization of Belarus. How do the Belarusian human rights activists evaluate the situation in the country on the eve of the consideration of renewal of the sanctions of the EU towards the official Minsk? You can learn about it from our interview with the representative of the Human Rights Center Viasna Valiantsin Stefanovich.
-Valiantsin, what is you opinion about the situation of human rights in Belarus and its evaluation by the European politicians?
- In the beginning of the year there were some noticeable small steps that could be treated positively. I mean the registration of the movement For Freedom and the return of the non-state newspapers Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volia to the monopolized state distribution net.
Pitifully enough, the last six months (another test period is coming to an end and an appropriate monitoring will be soon presented in Warsaw) are leading to deplorable conclusions. At present we can note something positive only on the level some statements, declarations, not real actions of the Belarusian authorities.
During these six months we had to observe even the deterioration of the situation in different spheres of human rights. The first is the tendency of non-registering NGOs. A number civil associations and political parties were denied the state registration. In particular, this year the authorities have twice refused to register Nasha Viasna that was established by members of the liquidated Human Rights Center Viasna. The Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs and the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party weren’t registered either. These registration denials are symbolic and significant, as the reasons for them are often very absurd, which witnesses that the authorities don’t want to register such organizations.
What concerns the freedom of assemblies, there was observed some tendency on the decrease of the administrative persecution of participants of mass actions, I mean arrests and fines for participation of citizens in peaceful mass actions. However, we can’t really say that the full-scale realization of the right to peaceful assemblies became possible in Belarus, as neither the legislation nor the practice of its application have been changed. The events of 9 and 16 September eloquently confirmed that any peaceful assemblies are impossible in Belarus.
- Do human rights activists have any prognoses concerning the possible improvement of the electoral system of Belarus in the context of its OSCE commitments?
- It is difficult to say anything about the questions of the electoral legislation, as the process of its amendment is completely closed for representatives of the civil society of Belarus. We know nothing even about the subject of the negotiations between the OSCE experts and the government. Only some statements indicate that such consultations took place and some draft law has been prepared. At least, such conclusions can be made from Yarmoshyna’s words. However, we know it for sure that since spring this year the Belarusian government has not maintained any active contacts with the Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE. That’s why one can’t hope that the OSCE recommendations that were made during the last elections, will be taken into account.
- The question of political prisoners is a separate point on the agenda in the dialogue of Minsk with the EU…
- Pitifully enough, the existence of political prisoners and political persecution remain daily issues for Belarus. The Young Front member Artsiom Dubski is serving a prison term in prison in Mahiliou. He is recognized a prisoner of conscience by the Belarusian human rights organizations and also by Amnesty International, which started supporting all who are serving their penalties on the so-called ‘process of 14’. I should remind that besides Dubski they are Maxim Dashuk who is serving a ‘home arrest’ term, Ales Straltsou and Ales Charnyshou, both of whom received mitigation of their personal restraint terms. Some other figurants of the case still haven’t been granted parole and cannot return to Belarus: Aliaksei Bondar, Mikhail Kryvau and Tatsiana Tsishkevich. The Human Rights Center Viasna demands the unconditional amnesty for all these people in order to get the question of political prisoners closed in Belarus once and for all.
- What do you think about the persecution of Vaukavysk entrepreneurs?
- This case has a great public resonance, but we have very little information about it as it has been closed from the very beginning. At present Mikalai Autukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka are still kept in the pre-trial prison. We don’t rule out that their persecution can be politically motivated, as there are real reasons for it, considering the fact that Mikalai Autukhovich even participated in the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly as an independent candidate. Of course, the appearance of independent persons who also run a successful business draws the attention of the state officials of different levels. That’s why I should repeat that we don’t rule out the possibility of politically motivated persecution, moreover that the proceedings against other suspects on this criminal case have been stopped.
The question of open trial on the case of Autukhovich and Asipenka is very important, because the charges they are given are very serious. It seems to me there haven’t been instigated any criminal cases on preparation of terrorist act since the times of Mikalutski’s case. That’s why the Belarusian human rights organizations insist on holding an open trial in the presence of mass media and human rights defenders. It is necessary for the objective evaluation of the objectiveness of the evidence and its legality. We need to see everything with our own eyes. If the trial takes place behind the closed doors, we will have reasons to think that it could be a legal lynching, because in this case we won’t be able to state that Autukhovich’s guilt was really proved by an impartial trial.
- Valiantsin, what are the positive steps made by the authorities during these six months?
- What concerns positive steps, we have only the assurances of the Belarusian site about its readiness to introduce the death penalty moratorium. However, it hasn’t been introduced so far. At present we have two death verdicts on criminal cases, and we are very worried that these persons can become the last shot people in the modern history of Belarus. We have also heard the assurances of the Ministry of Justice that the authorities are ready to decriminalize the activities of unregistered organizations by abolishing Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code. These promises are everything we have. We still haven’t seen any real steps, any system changes. There is still some time left to November, when the European Unions starts considering the question of re-imposing the sanctions towards Belarus and we hope the Belarusian authorities will made at least some steps to prevent the return of the sanctions.