Pickets in populous places are banned throughout Belarus
One of the novelties in the election legislation this year is that the state officials have to officially determine the places where picketing for collection of signatures in support of pretenders to candidates should be banned.
’It is a debatable question whether this innovation corresponds to the electoral law and common sense at all’, said Siarhei Alfter, specialist in the sphere of electoral legislation, member of the Minsk city election commission. ‘In Minsk it cannot present great obstacles to collecting signatures, whereas in the regions such approach can create certain difficulties. To my mind, determination of the places where collecting signatures is prohibited can decrease the activity of the population or even reduce it to zero.’
The Homel city executive committee determined the places where picketing for collection of signatures is prohibited, by an appropriate ruling dated 11 February. Such prohibition concerns objects of railway, automobile and water transport, stops of public transport, 200-meter zone of TV and radio centers and underground passages, the 50-meter zone of representatives and executive state organs, courts, procuracies, territories of the organizations responsible for defense and security of the country and vital activities of the population: public transport, enterprises, water, heat and electricity supplies, hospitals, clinics, kindergartens, schools and gymnasiums.
According to this ruling, police must take measures to prevent collection of signatures in the places where such activity is prohibited. Vasil Paliakou, Chairperson of the Homel oblast organization of the United Civil Party, said that from this ruling it follows that collection of signatures is allowed only in lonely places. ‘Earlier we determined the places for picketing on our own. Of course, we chose populous places. It is really difficult to find a place in the city where are no schools, enterprises or state organs nearby. Signatures for pro-governmental candidates will be collected mostly in working collectives, that’s why the bad conditions for the picketing will concern democratic candidates first of all,’ pointed Mr. Paliakou.
The city authorities also adopted the list of the buildings for electoral meetings with candidates. These are mainly halls of secondary schools or various culture houses. The appropriate ruling has an peculiar provision: electoral meetings are to be held on agreement of the administration of the appropriate state institution, and the public order at such meetings must be secured by the police. ‘It means that the administrations are given the right to refuse to hold an electoral meeting with a candidate. Of course, they can always say that its impossible to accommodate a meeting because of some events taking place in the hall at the specified time, repairs, cleaning, etc.’ added Vasil Paliakou.
The places where picketing for collecting signatures is prohibited, are enumerated in ruling #234 of the Brest city executive committee. Among them there are the central streets (Lenin Street, Savetskaya Street, Gogol Street, Mitskevich Street, Moskovskaya Street (from the Kobrynski railway bridge up to the Astor-West shop), Masherau Avenue, Kasmanautau Strip, Shevchenko Strip, Svabody Square, Lenin Square, Ikonnikau Square), objects of railway and water transport, the Brest bus terminal, the Brest Hero-Fortress memorial complex, 200-meter zone of the Brest TV and radio company, 50-meter zone of the representative, regulatory and executive state organs, diplomatic missions, organizations responsible for the defense and security and the vital activities of the population (public transport, hospitals, educational institutions), etc.
In Babruisk, it is prohibited to hold pickets for collecting signatures in such populous places as Lenin Square and Peramohi Square, the 50-meter zone of the representative, regulatory and executive state organs, courts, procuracies, on the territories of organizations, in public transport, at enterprises responsible for water, heat and electricity supply, at culture, health and sports institutions, kindergartens, schools, universities, and entrances of enterprises. Actually, these are all places where a considerable number of people can gather in Babruisk.
Moreover, the appropriate ruling, signed by Dzmitry Bokhanau, Chairperson of the Babruisk executive committee, and Mikhail Kavalevich, his deputy, ends with ellipsis, which means that this list can be expanded would the town authorities consider it necessary.
The district executive committees in Pastavy, Shumilina and Hlybokaye, have also adopted rulings to determine the places that would be prohibited for picketing. Each ruling enumerates the most populous places of the appropriate settlement, bus terminals, railway stations, commercial objects, state institutions and the places where collection of signatures ‘can block the traffic and the movement of pedestrians’.
In Talachyn the places prohibited for picketing are determined in ruling #77 of 8 February 2010 On determining the places banned for holding pickets with the aim to collect signatures for nomination of candidates to deputies of the local Soviets of Deputies.
The local officials decided to prohibit collecting signatures in the places that block the traffic and the movement of pedestrians, at objects of railway and automobile transport, the territories of organizations and enterprises providing the vital activities of the society (bus terminals and railway stations, public transport, enterprises of water, heat and electricity supply, hospitals, clinics, kindergartens, schools, commercial objects and communication centers of the Talachyn district.
Ya. Kolasau, Chairperson of the ideological department of the Talachyn district executive committee (DEC); V.Buyak, Chairperson of the personnel department and M. Zavadski, the Deputy Chairman of the DEC, were charged with supervision of the implementation of this ruling.
Other district executive committees are expected to adopt similar rulings.
On 8 February, the Orsha city executive committee and the Orsha district executive committee adopted the rulings on determining the places where the picketing for collection of signatures in support of nomination of candidates would be banned.
In Orsha, holding such pickets is prohibited in educational establishments, at health care institutions, commercial objects, places of public catering, domestic services, culture institutions, industrial, transport, construction organizations; at the bus terminal, the railway station, stops of public transport and in temples. As it follows from the ruling, the picketing is also prohibited on the territories adjacent to the aforementioned institutions. However, it is not specified how large such adjacent territories can be, which gives possibilities for arbitrary explanations.
The Baranavichy newspaper Nash Krai published the ruling of the Baranavichy city executive committee (CEC) on determining the places where it would be prohibited to picket for collecting electors’ signatures. These are the most populous places of Baranavichy: objects of automobile and railway transport and entrances of enterprises. Collecting signatures is also prohibited within the 50-meter zone of the buildings of the local self-government institutions, the editorial office of Nash Krai, the TV company Intex, on the territories of the responsible for the defense capability and security of the state, near hospitals, schools, business enterprises and objects of public catering.
Baranavichy CEC also determined the only place for agitation during the elections to the local Soviets of Deputies: the old Culture Park in Kamsamolskaya Street from the side of Tsaruk Street. At present the park is covered with snow and there are no places where people could stand and agitate for their candidates. Moreover, according to calculations of democratic activists, the park is passed by from the side of Tsaruk Street by one person in 40-45 minutes.
On 12 February, the Salihorsk district executive committee adopted ruling #279 to determine the places where it is prohibited to picket for collecting signatures. Such picketing is prohibited within the 50-meter zone of executive, regulatory and representative state organs, courts, procuracies, on the territories of the organizations responsible for defense and vital functions of the state, clinics, hospitals and sport institutions.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections