Belarus: Arrest and sentencing of human rights defender Mr Oleg Volchek
On 24 May 2012, human rights defender Mr Oleg Volchek was arrested and detained by police, and sentenced to nine days of administrative imprisonment. Oleg Volchek is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of the non-governmental organisation Pravovaya pomoshch naseleniyu (Legal Aid to Population), which was closed down by the Belarusian authorities in 2003. He represents the relatives of former Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Mr Yuri Zakharenko, who disappeared in May 1999. Oleg Volchek was critical about legislative changes adopted in 2011 that restrict the right to protest, and has published legal articles on the imprisonment of human rights defender Mr Ales Belyatski.
On 24 May 2012, at approximately 2:30pm, Oleg Volchek was outside his home near Park Druzhbi Narodov in Minsk. He was talking with a colleague when a number of plain-clothed police officers approached him. They accused him of swearing in public and subsequently arrested him, before taking him to the Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tsentralniy district in Minsk.
At 9pm that same day, Tsentralniy District Court in Minsk sentenced Oleg Volchek to nine days of imprisonment for swearing against police, under Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences. Oleg Volchek is currenty being detained in the Centre for the Isolation of Delinquents (CID) at the City Department of Internal Affairs in Minsk, which is known for its harsh conditions of detention. The arrest and detention is reportedly linked to an online interview that Oleg Volchek gave on 23 May 2012, in which he called for political reform and for bringing those responsible for torture and cruel and inhuman treatment to justice.
This is not the first case of judicial harassment against the defender. On 30 January 2012, Tsentralny District Court of Minsk found Oleg Volchek guilty of “petty hooliganism” and sentenced him to four days of imprisonment under Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences. During that arrest, he was ordered to hand out everything from his pockets to the police, including his home key. After his release, he found out that his passport, which was left at home and contained a number of visas to foreign countries, had disappeared. He was provided with a new passport on 23 March 2012 after appeals from international organisations. In March 2012, Oleg Volchek learned that his name was included in the travel ban list and has since complained to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See Front Line Defenders recent appeal on this dated 24 May 2012 (www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/18423).
Front Line Defenders expresses grave concern at the arrest and sentencing of Oleg Volchek, and believes that these actions form part of a continued campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment against him.
Front Line Defenders is also concerned at the systematic practice of detention of human rights defenders charged with administrative offences in Belarus, particularly since pre-trial detention facilities are reported to be poor and substandard.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Belarus to:
Immediately and unconditionally release Oleg Volchek and drop all charges against him, as Front Line Defenders believes that he has been arrested and sentenced solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful human rights work;
Immediately and unconditionally put an end to the judicial harassment of Oleg Volchek;
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.