Mahiliou court supports street events restrictions
On October 22, the Leninski District Court of Mahiliou chaired by Judge Valiantsina Lapatsina considered a complaint filed by local human rights defenders Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn to challenge a decision of the city executive committee "On Mass Events in the city of Mahiliou".
By this decision adopted back in 2007 the city authorities selected the only place in the entire city for holding events organized by the political parties, civil society organizations, trade unions and citizens. This is a stadium located far from the main streets of the city in the thinly populated place, which obviously is not suitable for mass actions.
On August 4, 2013 Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn were going to stage a picket to inform the public about the problem of political prisoners in Belarus. They applied for the picketing in advance. However, their bid was not granted by the executive committee on the grounds that the applicants had chosen a place of picketing that was not designed for this purpose by the authorities, namely a location in the center of Mahiliou.
In their complaint, the human rights activists asked the court to reverse the decision on the grounds that it is contrary to the law on mass events, the Constitution and the binding provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Belarus. Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn also drew the court's attention to the fact that the reason for the ban on the picket was contrary to the requirements of the ICCPR, which is confirmed by the numerous decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee in similar cases (three of which were attached to the case file). When announcing the written materials of the case, at the request of the human rights defenders, the judge read out the three relevant paragraphs of the attached UNHRC decision that directly refuted the arguments of the representatives of the authorities and deemed such actions of the Belarusian authorities and courts a violation of a right to peaceful assembly and expression, and demanded that Belarus brought the mass events legislation and decisions of local authorities in accordance with international law and put an end to similar violations of human rights.
In addition, the human rights activists doubted that the stadium selected by the authorities for public events was a suitable place to hold them. Finally, the applicants appealed to the fact that Mahiliou already had precedents of permitting pickets almost all over the city, and it did not cause any problems. For example, during the elections to the House of Representatives in 2012, the city authorities adopted a decision that allowed picketing (to collect signatures in support of candidates) everywhere, except in some places.
The court, however, did not take into account the applicants' arguments and dismissed their complaint. In her decision, Judge Lapatsina said that the decision adopted by Mahiliou city executive committee did not only prevent the applicants from holding mass events and express their thoughts and beliefs, but on the contrary, fully provided them with every opportunity to do so.
The trial was attended by more than a dozen local party and public figures, who, however, were not able to hear the verdict, after the judge ordered to vacate the courtroom, arguing that those present interfered with the trial.
The human rights activists say they had no illusions about the result of the trial, and are going to appeal against it first to the Belarusian authorities, and then to the UN Human Rights Committee. They are confident that the Committee will help achieve justice and once again confirm that such restrictions on mass events do not correspond to the law.