Monitoring report on the results of observation of the action “Stop the Tax” held on 20 December 2013 in Minsk
On 20 December 2013, an action against imposition of a tax on the car owners was held in Minsk. The call for this action was carried out through social networks. The organizers didn’t ask for the permission to hold this action. There have been cases of threats from the State Automobile Inspection (DAI) – it warned about imposing fines and evacuation of the vehicles of supposed participants of the action.
From 05:30 pm till 07:30, four observers monitored the action along a part of Nezalezhnasci Avenue – between Pieramohi Square and GUM (department store).
1. Peaceful nature of the mass event (“if its organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent”) should be noted during the whole action. Absence of application for permission to hold the action should not make the action unlawful – it should be considered as a realization of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (Art. 35) and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 19 and Art.21);
2. Instead of protecting participants of the peaceful action law enforcement officials were performing controlling functions and in some cases even repressing actions (such as pushing people out from the avenue to the passage between “Tsentralny” store and Kastrychnitskaya Square; detentions of people; evacuation of cars; presence of a large number of police officers in plain clothes; etc.). By doing so, law enforcement officials created obstacles to enjoyment by citizens of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly;
- There were cases of ungrounded detention of three young people – Mr Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Ms Anastasiya Kuchta and Ms Anastasiya Shaternik – who cannot be even considered as participants of the action. According to the information from the witnesses of the detention, Aliaksandr Frantskevich was filming the event on his phone camera and the young women stood up for him when Aliaksandr was being detained by unknown persons. At the moment, all three young people are held at the Centre of Isolation for Offenders of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk city Executive Committee (HUUS Minharvykankama) and are waiting for the court proceeding to be held on 23 December 2013. The police officers refused to name the official reasons for detention as well as to confirm the very fact of detention. This detention can be classified as arbitrary onewhich should not take place in a legal state. There is a tendency of such behavior from the side of the law enforcement authorities during the mass events (during the whole year there were cases of arbitrary arrests of the participants of various events, including sanctioned ones – see monitoring reports on public events “Dziady 2013”, “Charnobylski Shliakh 2013”, “Dzen’ Voli 2013” and others);
4. The special concern is caused by inability to identify the law enforcement officers as most of them are not wearing the uniform, and even those who do are not having the ID cards on them. Besides, it is important to note that regulation of the order of holding mass gatherings by the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” adopted on 30 December 1997 (as amended by 8 November 2011) is not consistent with the international standards. The joint opinion of the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR (CDL-AD (2012) 006) notes: “The Law on Mass Events is characterized by a detailed overregulation of the procedural aspects of holding assemblies. The Law creates a complicated procedure of compliance with a rigid and difficult authorization procedure, while at the same time leaving administrative authorities with a very wide discretion on how to apply the Law. This procedure does not reflect the positive obligation of the State to ensure and facilitate the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Besides, the UN Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly documented violations of the freedom to peaceful assembly from the Belarus side .
II. Conduct of the action
During the mass event the following facts have been noted:
a) The number of participants was up to 100 cars and 200 persons all along the route. Cars were moving from Pieramohi Square towards Nezalezhnasci Square and beeped periodically. In some cars songs of Lyapis Troubetskoy and Kino were played aloud. The people were moving along the Avenue, some of them made solidarity gestures (a raised thumb) and clapped. Some of the pedestrians and cars had the posters with the inscription «STOP the Tax";
b) At Kastrychnitskaya Square, two observers were approached by the unidentified men in plain clothes with walkie-talkies who persistently questioned about the identity of the observers and demanded to explain what observers were doing. After the observers presented documents confirming their observer status unidentified men left and did not create obstacles anymore;
c) One of the observers noted obstacles created for journalists: near the Circus, police officers requested those persons who had cameras to present their identities; they also created obstacles for photo and video recording of the event for passers-by and media covering vehicles (e.g."Autobusiness");
d) The organizers of the action were not identified;
e) Acts of aggressive behavior or instigation from the side of participants were not noticed;
f) The following representatives of the law enforcement bodies were noticed:
- About 60 police officers in black uniforms with the word "OMON" but without insignia. Some of them had special equipment (rubber sticks, handcuffs) and walkie-talkies;
- Number of police officers in plain clothes was between 30 and 50 (often with walkie-talkies, including employees of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk city Executive Committee (HUUS Minharvykankama);
- About 20 officers of road police and road patrol service (DAI and DPS);
• Not a single police officer could be identified due to a lack of identity cards on them;
• The case of blocking the movement of people by the police officers has been noted near the underground passage (to Kastrychnitskaya metro station) near the "Tsentralny" store. The police officers (OMON) surrounded the people who were standing on the pavement between the walls of the building and the roadway and pushed them out to the underground passage;
• No measures to protect the protesters have been taken by the police officers. Their work was to note the numbers of cars that beeped in support of the action, to stop individual participants and to push out people without reasonable grounds for it;
• No demands from the side of law enforcement officials were noticed;
• Direct aggression by the police was not noticed. However, during the incident with blocking people near the metro passage observers saw the scene of rough pushing of a young man, accompanied by shouting at him;
• The following police vehicles were noticed at the place of the action: 2 white medium-sized buses for transportation of police officers from OMON, one green bus for similar purposes, special vehicle for detainees (autazak), minivans, evacuation tractor and cars of the road police (DPS);
• At least 3 cases of evacuation and confiscation of cars from participants and the cases of fining the car owners who beeped in support of the action are known;
• According to the witness, who reported information directly to the observers, near Pieramohi Square from the side of RSDRP house-museum, Aliaksandr Frantskevich was detained by the unknown persons in plain clothes. Aliaksandr was arrested about 06:30 pm for the attempt to take a video of police officers. Anastasiya Kuchta and Anastasiya Shaternik tried to protect him, but this attempt resulted in the arrest of all three of them. According to preliminary information, all three young persons were taken to the police department of the Central district of Minsk and until the court proceeding to be held on Monday, 23 December will be held at the Centre of Isolation for Offenders of Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk city Executive Committee (HUUS Minharvykankama). Under the described circumstances it is difficult to understand the reasons for their administrative detention;
• Ambulance cars did not as accompany the mass event.
Law enforcement officials are recommended the following:
* Provide adequate protection of the participants during the peaceful assembly;
* In accordance with Article 5 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the Bodies of Internal Affairs," "the activities of the bodies of internal affairs should be transparent." Being guided by this provision, we believe that all law enforcement officers should wear the uniform and having identification cards (badges) on them while protecting public order during mass events;
* Designate a contact person from the police officers stuff for communication with observers, mass media and organizers of mass events;
* Cease persistent practice of arbitrary detentions during peaceful assemblies.
The entities having the right of legislative initiative:
* Initiate changes to the Belarusian legislation in order to make it fully compliant with the international standards related to conduct of peaceful assemblies.
[1.] Art. 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.