UN Human Rights Committee rules in favor of Aliaksandr Kamarouski in arrest case
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled in favor of Aliaksandr Kamarouski, co-chair of the organizing committee of the “Defenders of Fatherland” NGO, after considering his complaint against the Zhodzina City Court who sentenced him to seven days of arrest on charges of illegal picketing back in March 2008.
“The Human Rights Committee, acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is of the view that the State party has violated the author’s rights under article 19, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” say the Committee’s Views issued on 25 October 2013.
In his complaint to the Committee, which was prepared by lawyers of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Aliaksandr Kamarouski reported that the arrest term was imposed on him for involvement in a memorial picket held on 23 March 2008 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Belarusian People’s Republic, after his request for permission to hold a procession and a concert was dismissed by the Zhodzina City Executive Committee on a trumped up pretext. The authorities referred to their plans to organize “the 25th republic-wide marathon” on the date specified by the activists in their bid and issued an official order, refusing the events on 17 March.
Aliaksandr Kamarouski, together with three other organizers, said they would cancel the planned events, but informed the Executive Committee they were discussing the possibility to hold a peaceful event in any other location not interfering with the marathon.
However, on 20 March, the Executive Committee informed the organizers that it could not examine their request, as it did not satisfy the requirements set out in the Law on Mass Events. The activists were told that if they hold the meeting on 23 March, it would be considered as unsanctioned mass event.
As a result, Aliaksandr Kamarouski and other activists decided not to organize the event. However, in order to inform the persons who were aware of the venue of the event that the event had been cancelled, on 23 March at 3 p.m., Mr. Kamarouski and the other organizers arrived at the Park of Culture of Zhodzina and met there some 10 to 15 persons. More people arrived shortly after. The persons gathered decided to commemorate the heroes who had died during battles fighting for the country and to place flowers at the foot of the obelisk “Heroes Live Forever”. According to Aliaksandr Kamarouski, the commemoration and the placement of flowers was not a mass event of political, social or economic nature and it was not necessary to obtain permission in order to conduct such activities.
A group of 20 persons walked slowly to the obelisk. Some of them were carrying the historical national flag of Belarus and the flag of the European Union. When the police officers, who were standing nearby noticed the flags, they immediately ordered to put them away. The police officers did not formulate any orders to Aliaksandr Kamarouski and he and the rest of the group reached the obelisk, placed flowers and released white-red-white balloons. The action lasted for approximately five minutes.
When people started to leave, Aliaksandr Kamarouski was approached by police officers and was brought to a police station. He was questioned on the meeting and held at the police station until the morning of the next day. On 24 March, the Zhodzina City Court sentenced Aliaksandr Kamarouski to seven days of administrative arrest on charges of holding an unsanctioned mass event. On 25 March, Aliaksandr Kamarouski appealed the verdict to the Minsk Regional Court, but on 8 April, the Regional Court upheld the lower court’s decision. On 16 May, the sentence was appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was rejected as unfounded on 28 June.
In its Views, the Committee notes that Aliaksandr Kamarouski failed to exhaust all domestic remedies, Namely, he did not appeal the verdict to the Chairperson of the Supreme Court. However, Aliaksandr Kamarouski said that the remedies mentioned by the State were not effective and, thus, he did not have to exhaust them.
As a result, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled to recognize a violation of the author’s right to freedom of expression, citing the ICCPR’s requirement on the necessity and proportionality of restrictions to the exercise of such freedoms. In particular, the Committee noted that the Belarusian authorities had not sufficiently demonstrated in what way it was necessary to detain and punish the author and how was it justified to impose a seven day administrative arrest on him.