Belarus: Confirmation in appeal of the ban of a book written by Mr. Ales Bialiatski
BLR 003 / 0913 / OBS 079.1
Obstacle to freedom of expression /
April 7, 2014
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
On March 31, 2014, the Hrodna Regional Court confirmed in appeal the decision of the Ashmiany District Court to forbid the book “Asvechanyia Belaruschunai” (“Enlightened by Belarusianness”) written by Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President, who is serving 4,5 years’ imprisonment in relation to his human rights activities.
The panel of judges for civil cases reportedly took only three minutes to announce its decision, which proves that it was made in advance. Moreover, Judge Alexander Kolesnik, who ruled the case, behaved aggressively, and did not allow the applicants to speak in full and convey their views to the court.
The March 31 decision was issued following an appeal which had been lodged by Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka, member of the HRC “Viasna”, against a first instance ruling issued on February 11, 2014 (see background information). The book is a digest of literary articles and essays on Belarusian literature, and also features four texts written behind bars.
The Observatory expresses its concern about the confirmation of the decision to confiscate the copies of Mr. Bialiatski’s book on biased grounds, and considers it as a means to further sanction his human rights activities.
On July 5, 2013, a notice was sent to Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka informing her that an examination would be carried out by the head of the chief department for ideological work, youth and culture of the Hrodna regional executive committee.
On July 15, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka sent a petition to request a copy of the examination order, as well as information about the qualifications of the expert, including his or her level of education, degree, professional experience and previous experience of conducting similar examinations, invoking Article 138 of the Customs Code of the Customs Union, according to which “a customs examination shall be appointed by the customs authorities and carried out by customs experts as well as experts from other authorised organisations”, while the expert may be a person who “possesses the necessary expertise to give expert opinion”.
From July 24 to 30, two scientists of the Hrodna State University, composing the expert commission, held an examination, the results of which acknowledged that the book "could damage the image of the Republic of Belarus".
On August 14, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka expressed concerns to the State Customs Committee that 33 days after the appointment of the examination (i.e. from July 5 to August 7, 2013), the head of the Ashmiany Customs Department was still unaware of the expert’s name, although Part. 2 of Article 139 of the Customs Code provides that the period of an examination may not exceed 20 working days from the date of submission of the expert materials, and that such materials should be passed to the expert during the same working day.
On September 5, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka received the conclusions of an expert examination ordered by the Ashmiany Customs Department, which alleged that Mr. Ales Bialiatski’s book “could damage the image of the Republic of Belarus”.
On September 9, 2013, the State Customs Committee replied that the examination had “started on July 24, 2013” and had in reality been “completed on July 30, 2013”.
On September 13, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka filed a complaint to the Chairman of the State Customs Committee, urging him to conclude on the illegality of both the order for the appointment of the examination and of its conduct.
On November 13, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka received a response to her complaint from the State Customs Committee. She appealed against the violations of the customs officials of the Ashmiany Customs Office during the appointment of an expert examination of the book.
On January 2, 2014, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka received a message from the Ashmiany Customs Department that the books must be re-exported from Belarus. Later she received another message that the books would be destructed if they were not re-exported before January 21.
On January 29, 2014, a preliminary hearing was held at the Ashmiany District Court regarding the lawsuit lodged by Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka against local customs officials who prohibited the importation of the book “Enlightened by Belarusianness”.On the day of the preliminary hearing, Ms. Reviaka learned that the re-examination was conducted from November 20 to December 9, 2013.
On February 11, 2014, the Judge of Ashmiany District Court, Tatsiana Yemelyanovitch, announced the verdict forbidding the distribution on the territory of Belarus of the book “Enlightened by Belarusianness”. Ms. Reviaka lodged an appeal against the verdict.
Actions requested :
Please write to the Belarusian authorities, urging them to :
i. Cancel the examination order and return the confiscated books written by Mr. Bialiatski to Ms. Reviaka;
ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial and administrative levels - against Mr. Ales Bialiaski, Ms. Reviaka, as well as against all other human rights defenders in Belarus;
iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:
its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
its Article 6 (b) and (c), which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others […] as provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms and [...] to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”.
and its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration” ;
iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Belarusian Republic.
· President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, vul. Karla Marksa, 38, 220016 Minsk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· General Prosecutor, Alexander Konyuk, vul. Internatsyjanalnaya. 22, 220050 Minsk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 17 226 42 52
· Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, vul. Kalektarnaya, 10, 220004 Minsk, Belarus, Email: email@example.com
· President of the Supreme Court of Belarus, Mr. Valiantsin Alehavich Sukala, vul. Lenina, 28, 220030 Minsk, Belarus, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· H.E. Mr. Mikhail Khvostov, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, 15 avenue de la paix, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51. Email: email@example.com
· Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, 192 avenue Molière, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium, Fax : + 32 2.340.02.87, Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Paris-Geneva, April 3, 2014
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29