Viasna fails to protect website in court
Judge Alena Siamak of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk considered today a complaint filed by deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich to challenge a decision of the Prosecutor General's Office to blacklist the spring96.org website as a resource with restricted access. The judge previously considered the case of a travel ban imposed on a number of Belarusian human rights defenders.
At the beginning of the trial, Valiantsin Stefanovich requested to allow chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak contribute to proceedings. He also asked to announce the decision of the Prosecutor General, on the basis of which the spring96.org website was blacklisted. Stefanovich also asked the Judge to conduct proceedings in the Belarusian language. The Judge and the prosecutor supported the petitions, except the last one. Thus, the proceedings were conducted in Russian, after the judge argued that the computer in the courtroom was not adapted to the Belarusian language.
Stefanovich contested violation of his rights as one of the authors of Viasna’s website, namely, illegal restriction on the dissemination of information. According to him, the Prosecutor’s Office had no reason to blacklist the website, as materials posted on it in no way violate the law, but on the contrary contribute to improving the legal culture.
The Prosecutor General's position was based on the fact that the website contains information about the organization, which has not passed state registration in accordance with the law and, therefore, publication of such information is a violation of law. Representative of prosecuting authorities, Pavel Eliseyeu, said no complaints from citizens against information posted on spring96.org were received, and the decision was the Prosecutor’s Office own initiative, launched under the President’s Decree No. 60 dealing with internet media. The representative of the Prosecutor General's Office said that information on the website of the HRC "Viasna" promotes illegal activities, undermining the foundations of statehood, so the ban for public sector organizations to have free access to the resource is reasonable.
At the hearing, Pavel Eliseyeu said that if the Prosecutor's Office had the ability to impose general restrictions on access to the website of the HRC "Viasna", the law enforcement agency would have implemented it. "So far we have used the mechanism allows by the law - restricting access for government agencies, institutions of culture and education."
During debates, Stefanovich said that the representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office failed to explain what rights of citizens were violated through information that the applicant disseminated on spring96.org. "Our business is based on the principles of human rights. We support public policies to combat extremism, violence, ethnic, racial and other discrimination. I insist that the information that we disseminate in no way breaks the law. And the prosecutors did not provide any counterarguments,” says Viasna deputy chairman.
As a result, the court ruled to find Valiantsin Stefanovich improper plaintiff, because he is not the owner of the website spring96.org, and blacklisting the website did not violate his personal rights. In addition, the judge ruled to discontinue proceedings in the civil case. Valiantsin Stefanovich is not entitled to appealing the decision in cassation and supervisory procedures, but may file a private complaint within 10 days.
The human rights defender previously stated that he intended to appeal against the illegal decision at the international level, the UN Human Rights Committee, having exhausted all domestic remedies.