Court declares expert examination of “Enlightened by Belarusian Issue”, but bans the book due to “inner convictions”
On February 11, the Ashmiany District Court announced its verdict on the civil lawsuit of the member of the HRC “Viasna” Tatsiana Reviaka against Ashmiany customs.
The human rights defender filed a lawsuit against the ban on the import to the territory of Belarus of the book “Enlightened by the Belarusian Issue”, authored by Ales Bialiatski. Following two “expert examinations” the customs officers demanded that Tatsiana Reviaka re-export the forty copies of the book, seized from her at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, to the territory of Lithuania, where the book was published.
February 10 the civil case was heard in court. During the meeting the parties were heard by the judge, the written materials of the case were studied, the debates were conducted and the witnesses of the human rights defenders bore testimonies.
The court dismissed T. Reviaka's appeal.
As stated by the human rights activist, she didn't find anything intelligible in the court verdict and wrote an application for receiving the motivation part. In the meantime, Judge Tatsiana Yemelyanovich explained her motivation in words.
“The judge stated that she regarded the examinations of the book as unacceptable, but took them
into account as the opinion of experts. She took the decision on the basis of her inner convictions.
As a result, the book is banned,” said Tatsiana Reviaka. “However, the very fact that the expert examinations were declared inadmissible, is very revealing . This confirms that Ashmyany Customs has violated the law.”
Tatsiana Reviaka drew the attention of the judge to these violations during her speech on February 10:
"On September 3, I received another message from Ashmiany Customs, which stated that the examination had been carried out by the expert commission composed of employees of the Hrodna State University Uladzimir Yahorychau and Vadzim Khiliuta. I would like to ask the representatives of the Ashmiany Customs what relation they had to this case. Who instructed them to customs examination, if such a right is vested only to customs authorities? Who warned them and were they warned at all about the consequences of submitting false conclusion? I kept asking these questions
during many months of correspondence, asked the State Customs Committee to which I appealed the unlawful actions of the Ashmiany Customs. However, I still haven't received any answers to my questions.
A number of violations, committed during the appointment and conduct of the expert examination, were detailed in my appeal... I appealed these violations at the State Customs Committee and received an answer that Ashmiany Customs was ordered to hold re-examination. I managed to familiarize with the results of the examination only after a preliminary hearing, the materials of the re-examination were sent to me by the Ashmiany Customs on my request.
The most amazing thing is that it repeats all the violations that were committed during the appointment conduct of the first examination. They are described in detail in my augmented complaint. On what basis was it conducted? As it turns out, it was based not on the basis of a decision on the appointment of customs examination, but on some obscure letter of the Ashmiany Customs. What document is it? What is its legal force? What concerns the note that the experts were warned about the responsibility for giving false conclusions, it is not attested by the signatures of the experts...
On what basis did the Ashmiany Customs took the decision to put the book “Enlightened by the Belarusian Issue” on the list of the goods restricted for import in Belarus according to Section 1.3 of the corresponding list ? Which of the categories drawn in this list (pornographic, extremist, terrorist, Nazi or any other) does the information contained in the book belong to? I can responsibly say that the book by Ales Bialiatski doesn't belong to any of the aforementioned categories.
Most importantly, what was the basis for the decision on re-export of the book in this case? I haven't received answers to these question, though they are crucial for taking a decision on the case. I am sure that the violations admitted during the conduct of the expert examinations and their conclusions make them legally void and unsuitable for use as the basis for the decision on re-export.
During the seven months of correspondence with the Ashmiany Customs I analyzed similar cases on the appointment of examinations regarding printed publications and concluded that Ashmiany Customs systematically violated the law.
Another important aspect of this case is the recognition of the books which were seized from me to be goods, not items of personal use. The customs office didn't support its conclusion about it by concrete evidence.”
Lawyer Pavel Sapelka, who represented the interests of Tatsiana Reviaka at the trial, stated that the decision of Judge Tatsiana Yemelyanovich was unlawful and unreasonable and would be appealed at the Hrodna Regional Court.
“Inner convictions should be based on appropriate evidence”, says Pavel Sapelka. The rules of appealing unlawful actions of state officials are somewhat different from that of the other appeals insofar as the plaintiff doesn't have to prove his/her right. The burden of proof rests with the state agency. Ashmiany Customs failed to provide conclusive evidence that can be evaluated as the relevant and admissible, therefore the court's decision is illegal.
The lawyer is quit optimistic about the further development of the case: “We have won little victories at each stage of appealing. As a result, we hope to make the customs office to take a responsible approach to decision-making within their competence, though no one expects it to be easy.”
Activists of the HRC “Viasna” will return to the assessment of the verdict of the Ashmiany District Court after receiving the motivational part.