Human rights activist writes to Prosecutor’s Office to challenge penalties for photo session
Vitsebsk civil society activists continuing their struggle for the right to be photographed in the streets of the city: human rights activist Pavel Levinau has written a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office about the penalties for a photo shoot on a background of graffiti, after the executive committee sent him a written reply that the photo shoot was not a mass event.
In his complaint to the Prosecutor of Vitsebsk region, Pavel Levinau writes that the Republic of Belarus should ensure the protection of every citizen’s rights. Therefore, he believes that the court of Chyhunachny district, which fined him 25 basic units for participating in a photo shoot as for participating in an unauthorized mass event, violated his rights: the right to peaceful assembly, right to freedom of expression and to be free to exercise his rights as an individual whose actions do not bear any harm to people or the public interest.
He recalls that he did not manage to challenge the fine handed down by Judge Alena Tsyhankova either to the Regional Court or in a complaint to the chairman of the Regional Court. All the judicial bodies and officials agreed that in November 2014 several journalists and activists held a rally by being photographed against a background of graffiti – three images of cells and birds leaving them. Six participants were fined, one person served three days of arrest in the detention center.
According to the human rights activist, the situation is ridiculous:
“According to the court, every citizen must ask permission from the authorities to be photographed in a particular place. It’s absurd! But this conclusion was supported by the district administration of Chyhunachny district: I applied for a permit for a photo session, similar to the one that took place with my participation in November. I got a ban signed by the deputy chairman Liapioshkina. I appealed it to the executive committee, and I received a reply an entirely different content signed by Deputy Mayor Uladzimir Shloma. He argued that taking pictures is not included in the list of the activities listed in the law on mass events. Accordingly, no permits are necessary. However, seven members of the November photo shoot were punished! I will try to appeal the decision, and if successful, I will help protect everyone who was in the same position.”
Paul Levinau has addressed the Regional Prosecutor’s Office twice. In his second letter, he refers to the statements of Aliaksandr Lukashenka during a press conference on 29 January, 2015, when he said that the police claims to citizens who peacefully expressed their attitude to the murder of French journalists of the Charlie Hebdo magazine were useless. On 4 February, courts in Minsk were expected to consider the administrative charges against the UCP leader Anatol Liabedzka, deputy chairman of the Green Party Dzmitry Kuchuk, and media expert Pavel Kanavalchyk. They came to the Embassy of France with posters “Je suis Charlie” to join the global wave of solidarity with the murdered members of the Paris-based magazine. The protesters were detained and faced charges. But the trials were canceled.
Pavel Levinau is convinced that the penalties to the participants of the photo shoot in Vitebsk should be canceled, too, because they did not do anything that could cause harm. On the contrary, the human rights activist says the reputation of the Republic of Belarus was undermined by police Major Aliaksandr Rybak, who charged the activists with illegal picketing, and those violations of individual rights became known far beyond the country. Foreign journalists held a rally in support of their Vitsebsk colleagues in Brussels – they also took pictures with paper flowers and birds. They were holding signs saying “Is it a crime?”