Front Line Defenders condemns the harassment of human rights defender Aleh Volchak
human rights organization voiced its protest against the tax pressurization
used towards Aleh Volchak. Here’s the full text of the appropriate statement.
Human rights defender Mr Oleg Volchek is being pursued by the Ministry of Taxes in Belarus in what is believed to be harassment as a result of his human rights activities. On 25 October 2012, Mr Oleg Volchek sent a letter to the head of the Inspection of the Ministry of Taxes and Dues for the Frunze district of the City of Minsk demanding clarification of the reasons for which he had been asked to submit a tax declaration for the last 10 years.
Oleg Volchek is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of the non-governmental organisation Pravovaya Pomoshch Naseleniyu (Legal Aid to Population), which was formally closed down by the Belorussian authorities in 2003. The organization has since been registered in Ukraine and continues to operate. He defends political rights and fights against the use of torture and bad conditions in Belarusian detention facilities.
The letter sent from the Ministry of Taxes and Dues to Oleg Volchek on 27 September 2012 set a deadline of 25 October 2012 for the submission of a tax declaration for the last 10 years. However, the address designated on the letter was not the permanent address of Oleg Volchek, therefore he received the letter much later.
The grounds of this demand are unclear. Mr Volchek pointed out that he does not belong to the category of people who are normally obliged to submit an annual tax declaration. However, according to Article 12 of the 'Law on tax declarations by physical persons' of the Republic Belarus, such requests can be made at the insistence of the Committee of State Security (KGB) of the Republic of Belarus, and in this case the declaration could cover the period up to 10 years.
There are serious reasons to believe that the tax inspection is used by the authorities to put additional pressure on human rights defenders.
The criminal prosecution of the prominent Belarusian human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Centre 'Viasna', was opened following a request for a Tax Inspection. He was arrested on 4 August 2011 and subjected to a criminal investigation following accusations that he was involved in tax evasion. Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison and confiscation of property. During his trial, it became clear that this case was initiated through a request for Tax Inspection by the Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB).
Front Line Defenders believes that the injunction to submit a tax declaration for the last 10 years may be initiated by the Belarus KGB. Such interest may be linked to the successful public campaign titled “Human Rights Defenders against torture” in which Oleg Volchek took part. This campaign resulted in the closure of a detention centre on Okrestino Street in Minsk for renovation and the introduction of new provisions concerning the rights of detainees in the internal rules of special institutions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.