Situation of Human Rights in Belarus. January 2015.

2015 2015-02-12T17:59:00+0300 2015-03-05T18:01:59+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/review-chronicle-cover-2013.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations

Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations

The consistently poor human rights situation persisted in January. There was ongoing practice of arbitrary detention of civil society and political activists for public expression. The courts in such cases handed down politically motivated sentences. Lack of independence of the judiciary was demonstrated by the case of participants in an action of solidarity with the French journalist killed during an attack by radical Islamists on the editorial office of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, which was held near the Embassy of France in central Minsk. The consideration of their administrative cases did not take place, after President Lukashenka publicly ordered head of the Presidential Administration to investigate the situation, although the trials had already been scheduled.

There was ongoing harassment of independent journalists for cooperation with foreign media without accreditation. The media experienced strong pressure from the Ministry of Information. The courts sided solely with the executive in disputes between the media and the Ministry.

A court in Minsk dismissed a complaint by human rights activist Alena Tankachova against a decision to expel her from Belarus for a period of three years. The human rights activist took the last opportunity to challenge the decision of the Pershamaiski district police department of Minsk, filing an appeal to be considered in February.

No solution was offered to the most acute problem – the existence of political prisoners. Their situation in places of detention or restriction of freedom further deteriorated in January. The authorities completed the preliminary investigation of a new criminal case against political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok on charges of disobedience to the correctional institution administration (Article 411 of the Criminal Code). Mikalai Dziadok, who was expected to be released on March 3, faced an extension of imprisonment for up to one more year. Immediately after his transfer to the Shklou colony, political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich received two reprimands for violation of prison rules, resulting in the deprivation of a long-term family visit.

At the same time, there was a warming of relations between the European Union and the Belarusian authorities, despite the fact that the EU never publicly abandoned its earlier precondition for cooperation with the official Minsk – the release of political prisoners. On January 23, Andrejs Pildegovičs, state secretary for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, said during his official visit to Minsk that the EU was going to review its sanctions against Belarus in the first half of 2015. “During 2014, there were virtually no people added to the sanctions list. The gradual process of revising the sanctions is underway,” he said. “We noted that certain political prisoners were freed last year. Mr. Bialiatski is the best-known figure among them.” As for the other political prisoners, Andrejs Pildegovičs said: “If there is some progress in this respect, we, of course, will welcome that.” The diplomat for the first time ever announced the number of political prisoners the EU was negotiating with the Belarusian authorities. It turned out that the EU currently views three people – former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich, as well as opposition activists Mikalai Dziadok and Ihar Alinevich – as Belarus’ only political prisoners. This position does not coincide with the opinion of the Belarusian human rights activists who consider six persons to be political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka and Yury Rubtsou.

In turn, the head of state admitted that he was familiar with the sentiments in the West about the political prisoners. “I am told that the West speaks about political prisoners. I say that there are no political prisoners in Belarus because political charges are not part of the Criminal Code and it is true. If you want to call them political prisoners, go right ahead. It is a routine thing now, with no special attention paid to the content. There is a uniform law for everyone. I didn’t consider them as political competition for myself and I don’t consider them as such now,” said Aliaksandr Lukashenka at a press conference on January 29. He expressed confidence that if the issue of political prisoners was solved, “the West would conjure up another one”. “They will slam me and maybe all my partisans up to the presidential election. And then they will have to see. Normalizing relations with the West at the expense of some prisoners is not the idea. The West has far-reaching policies. Thousands of people die in Ukraine. And what does the West do? So I know the West well,” said Lukashenka.

Thus, there was a situation with the international factor, which is regarded as the most powerful in influencing the fate of political prisoners, beginning to lose its power. This was due both to the tense geopolitical situation in the region and the new role of Aliaksandr Lukashenka as a mediator in the talks on Ukrainian issues, as well as with the inconsistent position of the European Union.

Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society activists

On January 9, political prisoner Yury Rubtsou said that the administration of special settlement No. 7, where he is serving his sentence, was trying to harass him with the use of other convicts. According to Rubtsou, prison authorities increased pressure on the prisoners. In particular, they started to conduct personal searches more thoroughly and often closed the so-called “Lenin room” [a room for common activities, where there usually store tables, bookshelves, TV set, etc. – Ed.]. Yury also said that he was offered a job in Pruzhany as a driver, but the wage was so small that he did not agree to it. As previously stated by Yury Rubtsou, he wanted to earn not less than the national average – $600. The head of the special settlement registered this statement as a refusal to work at all, whereas Mr. Rubtsou insisted that he rejected only this particular proposal. On January 22, Yury Rubtsou announced an indefinite hunger strike demanding a job with an average salary, as well as the provision of daily airtime for the opposition on national TV channels. On January 24, the prisoner filed a statement about the hunger strike in the settlement administration, but it was in no way replied to or registered. On January 29, Assistant Prosecutor of Pruzhany district Khvalko arrived in the settlement to address Yury Rubtsou’s requirement. The official said that the political prisoner started the hunger strike because of pressure from the administration.

On January 12, political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich was transferred from Mahiliou prison No. 4 back to colony No. 17 in Shklou. The prisoner’s wife Maryna Adamovich said that within two days of his stay in the colony, Mikalai Statkevich was accused of two violations. The first report was submitted for wearing prohibited pants that he received back in the Mahiliou prison. The other charge dealt with an alleged violation of the daily routine, as the prisoner was not reportedly in his bed 15 minutes before bed-time signal. On January 23, Maryna Adamovich said that as a result of the violations Mikalai Statkevich was banned to have a long-term meeting with his relatives. On January 26, Mikalai Statkevich said in a letter to his wife that his sentence restrictions had not been changed. He wrote that on January 16 he was summoned to a sitting of the commission that was expected to consider the possibility of changing the restrictions. “This is done without any complaints from prisoners, just when the time comes,” said Statkevich. “The results are predictable, but I was surprised by the wording. I reportedly “did not tend to reform”, because I “was not involved in amateur organizations” and “avoided community work”. During a press conference on January 29, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said in response to a question about the fate of political prisoners that he did not think Statkevich to be his political rival, but was ready to consider his release from prison under certain conditions. According to him, one should not think that he was holding Statkevich in order to release him after the election. The key thing in solving this question, as noted by Lukashenka, is “not even a question of writing a petition for clemency”. “It is not the most important thing, though legally it is so,” said the head of state. The main thing, according to the President, is how this decision will be perceived by other people serving their sentences together with Statkevich, who could also find motivation to be released. Lukashenka suggested that in order to release Statkevich journalists should collect signatures of prisoners in the colony, where the ex-presidential candidate was held. “Then I’ll check how sincere it was, without bribery. If his colleagues let him go, where do you live, give the address – we’ll bring him to you. I’ll compromise with my conscience,” promised Lukashenka.

On January 14, Valiantsina Dziadok, the mother of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok, sent an open letter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in which she expresses serious concern about the fate of her son, who was subjected to increased pressure. Valiantsina Dziadok asked the officials to report on who and for what reasons had organized the transfers of Mikalai Dziadok between various prisons and colonies, as well as about who had initiated a new criminal case against the prisoner for alleged violations of the established form of clothing (Article 411 of the Criminal Code, “willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration”). The previous day, a preliminary investigation into the case had been completed. Mikalai Dziadok and his counsel were allowed to see the case file. It should be noted that the charge was based solely on the testimony of prison staff, while evidence by other inmates was totally ignored. The prisoner’s mother also told the Interior Ministry that over a short period of time Mikalai Dziadok had been transferred from cell to cell four times due to conflicts and provocations. As a result, the political prisoner applied to the prison administration asking for solitary confinement. Mikalai Dziadok’s health had drastically aggravated over the four years he had spent in pre-trial prisons, colonies and prisons.

The death penalty

In January, Volha Hrunova, the mother of Aliaksandr Hrunou, who was executed on charges of murder, received first answers to her petitions demanding to amend legislation prohibiting the disclosure of the burial place of executed prisoners. Liliya Maroz, Chairperson of the Standing Committee for legislation and state construction of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, said that there were no contradictions of the national legislation with the country’s Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court Valery Kalinkovich responded to the woman’s petition in just one sentence: “The Supreme Court sees no reason to introduce a proposal to the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the question raised.”

Liudmila Mikhalkova, Chairperson of the Standing Committee for Legislation of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, said that a refusal to issue the body for burial and a failure to report the burial site could not be regarded as a criminal sanction appointed by a court. Non-issuance of the body can be treated as a separate administrative and legal enforcement decision, wrote Ms. Mikhalkova. In such cases, the refusal serves as a measure of an administrative nature, which has a preventive purpose and at the same time is a definite limitation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the MP said. At the same time, she argued that the execution of a death verdict should be carried out so as to inflict the minimum possible suffering: “Obviously, this refers not only to the suffering of the convict, but also of other people.”

Persecution of human rights defenders and human rights organizations

In January, human rights activist Alena Tankachova, Chair of the Center for Legal Transformation Lawtrend, tried to challenge a decision of 5 November 2014 by the Pershamaiski District Police Department to expel her from Belarus for three years. The activist also faced a ban on entry into the country. The trial lasted three days, and, as a result, on January 13 Judge Natallia Petukh of the Pershamaiski District Court ruled to dismiss the human rights defender’s complaint. The harassment of the human rights defender stemmed from several minor traffic violations. On January 22, Alena Tankachova filed an appeal to the Civil Chamber of the Minsk City Court against the decision to expel her from the country. Her stay in Belarus was extended until February 21.

The authorities resumed the practice of enhanced searches of human rights defenders crossing the border. On January 16, human rights activist Viktar Sazonau was stopped by border guards as he was crossing the Bruzgi check point in Hrodna region. Viktar Sazonau was returning from Poland, when his car carrying two more civil society activists was stopped and sent for an examination. The customs officials also carefully and repeatedly checked the personal belongings of the activists. After that, the car was detained and the keys were taken by the officials. After a telephone consultation with superior officials, the car was sent for an X-ray examination. And only after that, the activists were asked to sign a paper and were allowed to go home. The search lasted for more than four hours.

Human rights organizations continued to be under pressure from the authorities. The Department of Justice of the Mahiliou Regional Executive Committee issued a warning to the Mahiliou Human Rights Center for the lack of a legal address. Back in September 2014, the Department of Justice sent to the Regional Court a lawsuit urging to suspend for three months the NGOs’ activities due to lack of a legal address. On October 1, the human rights defenders said they were going to sign a contract for a new legal address. Therefore, on November 4, the Regional Court ruled to dismiss the case. However, the property owner soon terminated the lease agreement and the NGO once again lost its legal address. Thus, the only registered regional human rights organization was once again on the verge of closing.

Administrative prosecution of civil society and political activists, arbitrary detention

In January, the authorities did not stop administrative persecution of civil society and political activists for expression on topical issues at public events. These actions were traditionally treated as unauthorized meetings, and the participants were subjected to fines and arrests. Police continued the practice of arbitrary detention, which in January most affected the activists of the anarchist movement. The courts did not give proper legal assessment of the actions of the security forces carrying out a political order.

In January, debates on the problem of persecution of citizens for public expression reached the highest political level. At a press conference on January 29, BBC journalist Tatsiana Melnichuk asked Aliaksandr Lukashenka about the image of the image of power, citing the arrests of civil society activists at the monument to Taras Shevchenko in Minsk after honoring victims of the Kyiv Maidan protests, as well as the persecution of people who came to the French Embassy with a sign “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with the French journalist killed during an attack by radical Islamists on the editorial office of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly. “If the government starts to fuss and do it, it’s stupid. They simply act to damage the government,” said Lukashenka, instructing the head of the Presidential Administration Aliaksandr Kosinets to address the situation, as he did not view the actions of four people a “problem”.

Despite the fact that the following day, January 30, Minsk police spokespersons released through the BelTA government-run agency a hastily prepared “answer”, explaining the legality of their actions, it became clear that decisions were made solely at the political level. The charges brought against the participants of a solidarity action staged outside the French embassy (Anatol Liabedzka, Dzmitry Kuchuk and Pauliuk Kanavalchyk) were never considered by a court, although the trials had already been scheduled. On February 2, the website of the Supreme Court said: “According to the information provided by the Minsk City Court, the materials of administrative cases against the partiicpnats of an action held on January 11 near the French embassy were ​​sent to the police department to address the identified deficiencies. The hearing, which was scheduled for 4 February 2015 at the Tsentralny District Court, will not take place.”

At the same time, the convictions of protesters detained near the monument to Shevchenko were not canceled, and all the administrative detainees completely served the terms of administrative arrest ordered by Judge Viktoryia Shabunia: Maksim Viniarski – 15 days, Ales Makayeu – 15 days, Mikalai Kolas – 10 days, Yuahen Batura – 10 days, Volha Mikalaichyk – 5 days. A fine of 20 basic units imposed on Nina Bahinskaya was initially canceled but later confirmed after her charges were repeatedly considered by a court. This was primarily due to the fact that the authorities viewed solidarity with the Ukrainian protesters a dangerous sign from the point of view of boosting citizens’ protest moods. This was stated by the head of the Presidential Administration Aliaksandr Kosinets: “We will have no Maidans, and no meetings in the squares, either. We will do everything to maintain peace and order.”

The authorities continued the harassment of activists who drew public attention to acute problems. In particular, activist Andrei Sharenda was arrested on January 16 in Brest. He was taken to the police department of the Maskouski district and charged under Articles 17.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism) and 21.14 (violation of the rules of improvement and maintenance of settlements). The latter offense stemmed from the fact that Andrei Sharenda allegedly pasted leaflets with portraits of missing Belarusian politicians and famous people. Andrei Sharenda was then taken to the Maskouski District Court. However, having studied the case file, the judge sent the charges back for revision and the activist was allowed to go home. On January 23, the administrative commission of the Maskouski district of Brest found Andrei Sharenda in his absence guilty of violating Article 21.14 of the Administrative Code and fined him 15 basic units.

The month saw the completion of a series of administrative trials of participants in a memorial action, which took place on 26 October 2014 in the district center of Svislach and in the village of Yakushouka. One of the last penalties in the form of a warning was issued to a minor Anton Mekh from Kobryn. A total of 18 persons faced administrative charges for participating in this event. Fourteen of them were fined a total of 255 basic units by courts in various cities of the country: Svislach, Hrodna, Kobryn, Vaukavysk, Lida and Shklou. The administrative cases of three more persons were closed due to the expiration of time limits, while Anton Mekh received a warning. Regional courts did not grant a single of the nine appeals. Vital Huliak from Vaukavysk, as well as Hrodna activists Yezhy Hryhencha and Uladzimir Khilmanovich submitted their complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The general trend to dismiss the appeals of convicted participants of mass actions was continued in the case of disabled activist from Svetlahorsk Yury Liashenka, who was punished by a fine of 2 basic units for staging a picket on the central square of Svetlahorsk in order to attract public attention to the problems of people with disabilities. Ahead of the picket, the activist asked the executive committee to give permission for the rally, but the authorities banned the event, citing that the venue (central square of ​​the city) was not consistent with the decision of the executive committee. Despite the fact that the appeal court emphasized that the site for the pickets and rallies, which was determined in the decision of the executive committee, did not exist in reality, Judge Anatol Sotnikau dismissed Yury Liashenka’s appeal.

In January, human rights defenders reported mass persecution of activists of the anarchist movement. The first arrest took place on January 10 before a punk concert in the Minsk club “Pirates”. According to police officers, they were allegedly looking for spice, but found nothing and the concert was disrupted. Three people were detained and faced administrative charges under Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code (disorderly conduct), and two more – under Article 17.11 (manufacturing, distribution and (or) storage of extremist materials). On January 12, the Leninski District Court hosted the trials of the detainees. The charges under Article 17.11 of the Administrative Code were sent back for revision to the police department by Judge Andrei Kamushkin. As a result, one detainee was sentenced to an administrative fine of 10 basic units, two more received administrative arrests of 10 days each. On January 16, anarchists held in Minsk a series of actions in protest against the actions of law enforcement agencies. These actions become the basis for further arrests and detentions. On January 21, the Leninski District Court of Minsk sentenced two activists of the anarchist movement to administrative arrests of 15 days each. The charges were heard by Judge Andrei Kamushkin. Two more detainees stood trials in the afternoon of the same day and in the morning of January 22. They faced charges under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code, “disobeying a lawful order or request of an official in the exercise of official authority”. Both were sentenced to an administrative arrest of 15 days. The charges were heard by judges Andrei Kamushkin and Maryna Zapasnik.

Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists

In January, there remained serious restrictions on freedom of expression and pressure on independent journalists and media. The authorities continued the practice of administrative prosecution of media representatives in connection with the exercise of their professional duties.

In January, there were documented facts of bringing to administrative responsibility of journalists covering socially significant events, with their actions being regarded as taking part in an unauthorized mass event. In particular, according to a ruling of the Svetlahorsk District Court of January 23, journalists Larysa Shchyrakova and Kanstantsin Zhukouski were found to have violated Part 1, Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code – violation of the order of organizing or holding mass events – and fined 5 basic units each. On November 25, the journalists were covering a picket staged by disabled activist Yury Liashenka in the city’s central square in front of the district executive committee. The court concluded that the journalists knew in advance about the picket and “purposefully assisted Yury Liashenka, provided video recording of the picket, were jointly present in a place not authorized for picketing”.

There was ongoing prosecution of freelance journalists for cooperation with foreign media without accreditation. On January 12, the Leninski District Court of Brest sentenced local journalist Alina Litvinchuk to a fine of 30 basic units. The journalist was accused of illegally producing and distributing information under Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code for a publication on the website of the Belarusian Radio Racyja about the activities of the Brest regional branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association. The decision on the administrative liability of Alina Litvinchuk was a continuation of the practice of punishment of journalists on similar charges, which was actively used in the previous months. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2014 there were 14 documented cases of journalists being convicted under Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code in connection with their cooperation with foreign media.

Appeals to higher courts, which followed virtually all the verdicts, did not bring any positive results. This trend was transferred to 2015 and continued by more refusals to meet the appeals of journalists. In particular, on January 8, the Hrodna Regional Court dismissed an appeal lodged by Andrei Mialeshka, who on 2 December 2014 was for the third time during the year fined 40 basic units for a publication on the website of the Belarusian Radio Racyja. On January 23, Judge Natallia Surma of the Brest Regional Court dismissed the appeals of independent journalists Ales Liauchuk and Tamara Shchapiotkina, who in December 2014 were fined 40 and 30 basic units, respectively, on charges of violating Part 2, Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code. The court punished Ales Liauchuk for allegedly preparing materials for the Polish TV channel Belsat, and Tamara Shchapiotkina – for publications on the website of Radio Racyja.

Harassment of journalists for work without accreditation took place against the backdrop of continued refusals from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to provide such accreditation. Hrodna journalist Viktar Parfionenka received seven refusals from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, which denied him permanent accreditation for the Belarusian Radio Racyja. Decisions related to accreditation are made collectively by a special commission, whose activities are governed by special provisions. The journalist wrote several complaints to the Ministry itself, and the government of Belarus, arguing that he was deprived of the right to profession. However, his complaints were not even accepted for consideration. The Leninski District Court of Minsk refused to consider Viktar Parfionenka’s complaint (the MFA is located in this district of Minsk). Parfionenka disagreed with the decision of Judge Irena Brolishs and appealed it to the Minsk City Court. On January 19, the Minsk City Court, chaired by Aksana Budouskaya, also rejected the journalist’s claim and denied him the right to complain about the actions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The courts invariably continued siding with the authorities in their debates with the media. On January 23, the Supreme Court confirmed a warning to the newspaper Narodnaya Volia, which was issued by the Ministry of Information on 18 November 2014. The penalty stemmed from an article of October 3 entitled “Enchain!”. The material was authored by the newspaper’s columnist Sviatlana Kalinkina and devoted to the future ratification of the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (at the time of publication the treaty was awaiting ratification by the Belarusian Parliament). The Ministry of Information argued that the author’s opinion constituted a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens and possible damage to the interests of the Republic of Belarus. During the court proceedings, representatives of the Narodnaya Volia repeatedly stressed that the publication did not disseminate false information. After the court decision, the Ministry of Information received an opportunity to request the Supreme Court to close the independent newspaper, since the warning was the second penalty for the Narodnaya Volia within a year. The decision to reject the suit against the Ministry of Information was handed down by Judge Alena Kastrama.

Officials continued to restrict access to information for journalists of independent media. Illegal restrictions could not be lifted even in court. On January 21, the Mahiliou Leninski District Court dismissed a complaint by Uladzimir Laptsevich, journalist of the BelaPAN news agency, against Chairman of the Mahiliou Regional Council of Deputies Anatol Isachenka and chief specialist of the Regional Council Yauhen Nalhachau. In his complaint, Uladzimir Laptsevich argued that the officials did not allow him to attend a public session of the Regional Council.

The authorities actually refused to investigate the circumstances of illegal blocking of several websites in late December 2014 (belapan.com, belapan.by, naviny.by, belaruspartisan.org, udf.by, 21.by, gazetaby.com, zautra.by, charter97.org). Statements sent by the Belarusian Association of Journalists to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus, as well as to the Interior Ministry’s department for crimes in the sphere of high technologies (Department K) and the Operational and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration were answered with formal replies. The Prosecutor General’s Office argued that it “did not initiate issues related to limited access for all Internet users to the resources mentioned in the statement” and did not possess “information on decisions taken by the government”. A response from the Operational and Analytical Centre under the President of the Republic of Belarus signed by first deputy head of the Center Uladzimir Rabavolau said that “the OAC did not take any measures to restrict access to the online resources mentioned in the statement”. Deputy Head of the Department K Lysenka said that a check had been conducted, but “it was impossible to establish the reasons for the lack of access of users of the Belarusian segment of the Internet to the above information resources on the territory of the Republic of Belarus”. The agency said that “due to the fact that the event possesses no sings of public danger, as well as the elements of an administrative or a criminal offense, the probe into the statement has been terminated”.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly

In January, the authorities continued the practice of restrictions on freedom of assembly. There was not a single positive decision of the authorities to allow a peaceful assembly applied for by representatives of the political opposition. Submitted applications were not satisfied for formal or frivolous reasons.

In particular, on January 18, Uladzimir Vuyek, deputy chairman of the United Civil Party and the party’s leader in Brest, said that the city authorities had dismissed 18 applications for holding pickets. The main purpose of these actions was to demand the resignation of the head of state, who is to blame, according to organizers of the rally, for the monetary and financial crisis in Belarus. Similar pickets applied for by chairman of the UCP’s Hrodna regional office Aliaksandra Vasilevich and chairman of the party’s city branch Yezhy Hryhencha were banned due to a failure to submit agreements for maintaining public order, health care and a clean-up of the territory. On January 17, a picket on the same subject was banned in Astravets due to the fact that the applicant, Chairman of the UCP’s local branch Mikalai Ulasevich, was going to stage the picket in the town’s central square, which was designed exclusively for public holidays.

In all cases of appealing against the refusals to hold peaceful assemblies, the courts sided with the executive and dismissed the applicants’ complaints.

On January 27, the Baranavichy City and District Court dismissed an appeal lodged by local human rights activist Siarhei Housha to challenge a decision by the city executive committee, which banned a picket that was expected to mark the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Salihorsk District Court dismissed an appeal filed by local human rights activist Leanid Markhotka against a ban imposed by the district executive committee on a picket scheduled for the Human Rights Day, December 10. On January 28, the Svetlahorsk District Court dismissed an appeal by wheelchair user Yury Liashenka, who was going to hold a rally in defense of the rights of people with disabilities in front of the executive committee’s building, but was not allowed to stage the picket by the local executive committee.

While the national courts supported government measures to restrict the freedom of peaceful assembly, international bodies viewed such actions as a violation of the rights of the citizens of Belarus. The United Nations Human Rights Committee continued to recommend the Belarusian government to provide effective remedies to the victims of these violations, including a review of national legislation and measures to prevent the commission of similar violations in the future.

On January 15, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a decision on communication No. 1987/2010, according to which the Republic of Belarus was recognized as violator of the rights of civil society rights activist Anatol Stambrouski. In his appeal to the HRC, Mr. Stambrouski argued that he was a victim of a violation of his rights by Belarus. The activist intended to hold a picket on 3 April 2009 in the pedestrian zone at the intersection of two streets in Vitsebsk in order to draw public attention to violations of the law by the authorities. However, the picket was banned by the Vitsebsk City Executive Committee. The UN Human Rights Committee tried several times to receive explanations from the Belarusian authorities on the merits of the appeal. However, the Belarusian authorities refused to provide such explanations. Despite the objections of the Belarusian authorities, the Committee found the complaint acceptable and considered it on the merits. As a result of the consideration, the Committee stated that “the State party has submitted no observations on the merits of the present communication. The national authorities have not explained how in practice the author, during a picket conducted only by him, in a pedestrian zone, would hinder the traffic, movement of pedestrians, as well as public security and public order in the respective location and how exactly the restrictions imposed on the author’s rights under article 19 of the Covenant were justified under article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant. In those circumstances, and in the absence of any information in that regard from the State party to justify the restriction for purposes of article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, the Committee concludes that the author’s rights under article 19, paragraph 2, of the Covenant have been violated.”

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