Vitsebsk police consider mass actions as business events
Businessmen have faced an unusual interpretation of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
Businessmen try to protect their right to preserve the retail chain (stalls and pavilions) in Vitsebsk. The matter concerns not only a ban to sell bear and low-alcohol beverages in stalls, this time the city department of construction and architecture is going to eliminate all retail outlets in the city center (more than a half of all stalls and pavilions) and later in other districts.
After an unsuccessful meeting in the Vitsebsk city executive committee, individual entrepreneurs chose a picket, which is not forbidden by the law, as their response to arbitrary actions of officials.
As it was found out, organizers should attach contracts with local law-enforcement bodies, medical and utility services to an application for a picket.
‘Any normal person says: why should we make contracts for the event, which is not authorized yet? Police don’t understand the decision of the city executive committee. We had to go to the Pershamaiski police department in Vitsebsk and the accounting division of the police department of the oblast executive committee. After long consultations they sent us to the preventive measures division. We learnt there we needed to appeal to the chief of the police department of the region executive committee, who would say us what to do,’ Anatol Shumchanka, Chairperson of the republican NGO Perspective, said.
The businessmen were shocked by the remark of a law-enforcement officer.
‘We were told that we have to pay for the services. In other words, we have to pay for holding a meeting, the right guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s not a commercial event. An officer of the preventive measures division told us: “A meeting is a commercial enterprise!’ He added that we would have to pay every hour of work of policemen. The sum will depend on the number of people at the picket. Moreover, we will have to go to the trade division of the city executive committee in order it to issue an order banning to sell alcoholic drinks within a 500-metre radius of the site of the picket. But there are a restaurant and a shop nearby!” the businessman says.
This tricky decision of the local authorities makes it impossible to define even an approximate date of a meeting or a picket. What concerns the elimination of the small retail chain, the businessmen think this is a crime. Pursuing their interests the local authorities create social and economic instability. The businessmen can’t find another reason why profitable small enterprises should be forced to close amid crisis except that the officials ‘lobby big trading companies, mainly Russian ones and regard small retailers as their additional competitors’.