Monitoring report on the results of observation of the action “Stop the Tax” held on 27 December 2013 in Minsk
On 27 December 2013, the second action against imposition of a tax on the car owners from 1 January 2014 was held in Minsk. The call for this action was carried out through social networks. The organizers didn’t apply 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 as well as about criminal liability for the blocking of transportation arteries. The first action was held on 20 December 2013 (monitoring report on the results of observation). State Automobile Inspection (DAI) also reported about filing the materials to the Prosecutor’s Office for the legal assessment of the action. 6 persons were known to be under administrative detention from the evening of 20 December till the noon of 23 December. After the court proceedings, two of them were punished with the administrative arrest (5 and 12 days) which can be considered an arbitrary detention. The cases of unlawful evacuation of vehicles of the participants of the action are known, as well as the cases of mass fining for beeping, groundless stops and turning on emergency lights.
In advance of the action, about 4 pm of 27 December 2013, Mr. Dzmitry Palienka, administrator of the action’s group in “VKontakte” social network detained and later preventively punished with 15 days of arrest.
During the action, from 17:30 till 19:10, seven observers monitored the action along a part of Nezalezhnasci Avenue – between Pieramohi Square and GUM (department store).
- Law enforcement structures made all efforts to prevent the action: harsh punishment of the participants of the previous action with fines and administrative arrests, deletion of the action’s group in the social network, preventive detention and arrest of the administrator of this group in “VKontakte” and restricted movement on the part of the Nezalezhnasci Avenue. These measures can be considered as methods of intimidation and pressure that influence restrictively on the realization of the right to freedom of assembly. These measures are inadequate and disproportionate by their nature and should not take place in a legal democratic state.
- 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);
- As in previous action instead of protecting participants of the peaceful action law enforcement officials in some cases were performing repressing actions (stopping the cars of the supposed participants and cars of persons who beeped in support of the action).
- 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 .
- Conduct of the action
During the mass event the following facts have been noted:
- The porches and parts of Nezalezhnasci Avenue from Pieramohi Square to Nezaleahnasci Square were blocked by the DAI officers, which created traffic jams on the nearby streets. The following inconveniences were obviously preventive measures for the conduct of the action with the participation of cars;
- The number of participants was up to 12 cars and 10 persons all along the route. Cars were moving from Pieramohi Square towards Nezalezhnasci Square and beeped periodically. Some of the cars had the posters with the inscription «STOP the Tax";
- On the Kastrychnickaya Square one of the observers was asked to step aside without necessary explanations.
- No obstacles created for journalists were noted;
- The organizers of the action were not identified;
- Acts of aggressive behavior or instigation from the side of participants were not noticed;
The following representatives of the law enforcement bodies were noticed:
About 10 police officers in black uniforms with the word "OMON" but without insignia. Some of them had special equipment (rubber sticks, handcuffs) and walkie-talkies and also 3 buses for their transportation;
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 (GUUS Mingarvykankama);
About 30 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;
No measures to protect the protesters have been taken by the police officers. Their work was to note the numbers and stop the cars that beeped in support of the action and to stop individual participants;
No demands from the side of law enforcement officials were noticed;
Direct aggression by the police was not noticed. However, the observers saw the rough inspection of a young man at the crowded place followed with his detention (it is hard to qualify him as participants of the action);
Police officers communicated with the observers on the case of the detention of the young man, but only after the presentation of a passport in addition to certificate of observer and accreditation. The police officers explained the alcoholic condition of the man;
The following police vehicles were noticed at the place of the action:
One white medium-sized bus for transportation of police officers from OMON, two vinous buses for similar purposes, minivan, four cars of the road police (DPS) with the people in plain clothes on the back seats;
At least 5 cases of stopping cars of the participants and registration of protocols for beeping in support of the action and creation of emergency situation are known. One of the detainees beeped to the police officer who ran across the road in front of his car in the wrong place. For this driver, a protocol for creating an emergency situation on the road was drawn up with huge delay (with separate consideration later). The driver also found that one of his car’s tires was flat with no evident reasons for that.
Law enforcement officials are recommended the following:
- Provide adequate protection of the participants during the peaceful assembly;
- Cease persistent practice of persecution of participants of the peaceful assembly as well as preventive detentions beforehand;
- 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;
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.