Front Line Defenders urges Belarus authorities to lift travel ban on human rights defenders
Over the past number of days, in a flagrant denial of their right to freedom of movement, several Belarusian human rights defenders have been stopped by border guards while they were leaving Belarus, along with numerous political activists and journalists. To date, Mr Valiantsin Stefanovich of Human Rights Centre 'Viasna', Mr Aleh Gulak and Mr Garry Paganiayla of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and Ms Zhanna Litvina from Belarusian Association of Journalists were prohibited from leaving the country.
On 15 March 2012, when Zhanna Litvina was going through passport control at Minsk airport, on her way to Warsaw, she was told that she was under a 'temporary travel ban' and her passport was stamped 'departure refused'. On 13 March 2012, Aleh Gulak was notified that a travel ban was 'temporarily' imposed on him, reportedly on the basis that he is the subject of an administrative law suit. However he was given no information about the details of this alleged administrative case. Garry Paganiayla also received information that he was part of a list of citizens facing a travel ban, without further explanation. On 11 March 2012 Valiantsin Stefanovich was stopped at the Belarusian border and prohibited from travelling to Lithuania with no explanations given as to why this measure was being taken against him by the authorities.
The travel ban was reportedly imposed by the Belarusian authorities in response to the diplomatic crisis between Belarus and the European Union. Following the decision of the Council of Ministers of the EU, made on 27 February 2012, to strengthen the sanctions against the Belarusian regime and to enlarge the list of Belarusian officials who are forbidden from entering the Schengen zone, Belarus asked the Polish and European Union ambassadors to leave the country and recalled its own envoys from Poland and the EU 'for consultations'. On 28 February 2012, the European Union recalled all the ambassadors from Minsk. On 29 February 2012, Belarusian website tut.by, quoting 'a source close to the government' announced the creation of a list of 108 Belarusian citizens who will face a travel ban because of their alleged involvement in lobbying for the expansion of the EU sanctions.
Front Line Defenders expresses concern regarding the travel ban imposed on Valiantsin Stefanovich, Aleh Gulak, Garry Paganiayla and Zhanna Litvina, and questions its legal basis as the right to freedom of movement is enshrined in Article 30 of the Belarusian Constitution.
Front Line Defenders believes that the travel ban is solely imposed on Belarusian human rights defenders as a result of their legitimate human rights work, in particular their denouncement of human rights violations in Belarus.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Belarus to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally lift the travel ban on human rights defenders Valiantsin Stefanovich, Aleh Gulak, Garry Paganiayla and Zhanna Litvina;
2. Ensure that other human rights defenders are not subjected to a travel ban and that their right to freedom of movement is not restricted;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Belarus are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.