FIDH and "Viasna" present a report on "Arbitrary Preventive Detention of Activists in Belarus"
Paris-Minsk, 24 September 2014 – In a report released today, our organisations establish that the authorities in Belarus systematically arrest activists prior to important public events to avoid any protest. These arrests, which completely lack legal grounds, can be defined as preventive arbitrary detention. This report follows an international fact-finding mission that took place in Belarus in May and June 2014, right after at least 37 political activists were arrested ahead of the World Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk.
«Preventive arbitrary detentions are ordered in the period immediately preceding important political or social events, such as election campaigns, official visits by leaders of foreign states or large-scale planned events organised by the authorities or by the opposition», explained Ales Bialiatski, Vice President of FIDH and President of Human Rights Center Viasna, released in June from jail after three years in detention. «This practice is largely used by authorities in total contradiction of law and of the international obligations Belarus has adhered to» he added.
During the mission, interviews were conducted with numerous victims of arbitrary preventive detention just a few days after their release. Those interviewed included representatives of various social and political groups like Malady Front (Young Front), web-activists and members of anarchy groups or football fan clubs. The common factor between these people was their previous participation in protest actions where they had been identified by the law enforcement authorities. They were subsequently targeted and arbitrarily detained prior to the World Ice Hockey Championship to avoid futher potential protests.
Despite a drop in the number of preventive arbitrary detention cases after the World Ice Hockey Championship, this practice lingers. Some of the people interviewed during the mission in June were arrested twice since. Several activists of youth opposition groups were detained in Minsk before Independence Day celebrations on 3 July 2014. In August, the opposition activist Pavel Vinogradov, who testifies in the present report, was arbitrarily placed under arrest for a period of 10 days and was detained again on 12 September for 15 days right before the Minsk City Day.
Hearings in a criminal case against Yury Rubtsov began on16 September 2014 at the Central District Court in Minsk. This opposition activist from Gomel, arbitrarily arrested before the World Ice Hockey Championship and interviewed by the mission in June, is now accused of insulting a judge under Article 391 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. This criminal case stems directly from Rubtsov's arbitrary preventive detention during which he was subjected to degrading treatments.
The report clarifies that the current Belarusian law does provide citizens with full protection from arbitrary detention, and that any violation is punishable by law. However, this is unrealistic when the Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigatory Committee do not carry out proper investigations, despite it being their mandate.
There are no procedures to guarantee the rights of individuals detained in administrative cases. This leads to the complete diregard of individual rights by administrative bodies during proceedings and fosters illegal prosecutions.
FIDH and HRC Viasna set up a number of recommendations, both to Belarusian authorities and to intergovernmental organisations. In particular, they recommend that the government of Belarus:
- Immediately stop persecuting opposition activists and human rights defenders in Belarus;
- conduct effective, impartial investigations of individuals who have violated citizens’ rights, including, and especially, in each case of illegal detention; to achieve this, give legal authority to bodies of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct investigations at the same level as the Investigatory Committee;
- establish rules to provide persons detained in administrative cases and subjected to punishment in the form of administrative arrest or deportation with legal assistance following rules identical to those set forth in criminal procedural law;
- establish reduced deadlines for a higher court to review the appeals of people subjected to administrative arrest; in these cases, at least substitute advance payment of the state fee with collection of this fee in the event the appeal is dismissed;
- provide for the possibility, as stipulated by law, for the public prosecutor or judge to suspend the execution of an administrative arrest in the event a ruling is appealed.