Uladzimir Labkovich: “Bialiatski’s case started with a warning, issued to him by General Procuracy for activities on behalf of an unregistered organization”
On 15 October the European
Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) produced a special
report "On the conformity with the universal human rights standards of
Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code on the rights of non-registered associations
of the Republic of Belarus”. The uniqueness of this instrument lies in the fact
that it was the first time when this authoritative legal commission considered
only one article in a country’s law.
On 14 November Aliaksei Shein, coordinator of the campaign "The Right to Faith" emphasized at the press-conference on this issue that since the introduction of Article193.1 (illegal organization of activity of public associations, religious organization or foundation, or participation in their activities) in the Criminal Code in 2006, criminal proceedings had been brought against 18 persons. As far as the vast majority of non-governmental organizations work in Belarus without registration, which is almost impossible to obtain, tens of thousands of their members are living under a real threat of criminal prosecution.
A peculiarity of the previous year was that for the first time such warnings were issued not only to political and civil activists, but also to religious leaders, especially members of Protestant denominations. As stressed by Aliaksei Shein, in 2010 such warnings were issued to eight Protestant ministers.
The importance of the conclusion of the Venice Commission about the illegal nature of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code in this moment was stated by the member of the Council of Human Rights Center "Viasna" Uladzimir Labkovich. He recalled that the case against “Viasna” and its Chairman, Ales Bialiatski, started with an official warning about the inadmissibility of activities on behalf of an unregistered organization, issued to him by General Procuracy. Human rights defenders don’t rule out that on Wednesday, when the hearings on this case continue, Bialiatski can be presented new charges, under Article 193.1, in addition to the present ones, which are of economic nature.
Human rights activists welcomes the fact that such an influential organization expert at the Council of Europe, an associate member of which is the Republic of Belarus, recognized Article 193.1 as contrary to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the international obligations of Belarus. The very existence of this article in the legislation suppresses civil society and inhibits its development. It is inadmissible to draw people to criminal liability for activities in which there is no guilt and crime.
A representative of the Assembly of Democratic NGOs, coordinator of the campaign "Stop 193.1" Siarhei Lisichonak said that today the English variant of the conclusion and the Russian translation would be sent to the authorities who made decisions or can influence those who may decide to repeal the infamous article. Among them there are the House of Representatives and the Soviet of the Republic, the Presidential Administration, the Information and Analysis Center under the President, the KGB and other agencies.
"From now on we start a number of events which will be a result of the cooperation of non-governmental organizations and representatives of religious communities and will be aimed at minimizing the consequences of Article 193.1 for the Belarusian society", emphasized Siarhei Lisichonak.
Answering journalists’ questions, the member of the Council of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Uladzimir Labkovich admitted that "it is possible that the government will pretend there is no such a document even after receiving the Opinion of the Venice Commission. “However, the people who take this and similar decisions should know that Belarus violates the international obligations assumed voluntarily, and that they will have to answer for it someday.”
The Venice Commission is an advisory body on constitutional law, established by the Council of Europe in 1990. The main form of work of the Commission is the analysis of laws and legislation concerning issues of constitutional law, including standards for elections, minority rights, etc. The Commission's conclusions are widely used as a reflection of the PACE "European standards of democracy."