Report on the monitoring of mass event “Freedom Day - 2015”
The sanctioned mass event (demonstration) was held in Minsk on 25 March 2015, from 3 pm to 6 pm. Traditionally, Belarusian opposition movements hold this event every year to celebrate the Declaration of the Belarusian People’s Republic in 1918.
At the first step, from the name of four applicants (A.A. Yanukevich, M.A. Semianenka, M.H. Kazlou and M.V. Khomich) was filed an application to sanction the march and demonstration from 5 pm to 8 pm. But due to decision on March 18, 2015, “considering experience of holding such an event in previous years” the Minsk City Executive Committee permitted to hold demonstration in the following order: gathering of participants from 5 to 6 pm in front of the entrance to the Kastrychnik cinema; march from 4 to 5 pm to the route Independence Avenue – Surhanau Str. –the Friendship of Nations Park; demonstration from 5 to 6 pm on the central scene in the Friendship of Nations Park. Thus, certain hours of demonstration coincide with working and study time for the most part of population. Also, organizers of the demonstration were required to sign a contract with the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee, the Health Care Institution “Minsk City Station of Emergency Medical Services” and the Communal Unitary Enterprises “Minskzelianbud” with a total cost of more than 21 million Belarusian rubles. As a result, organizers have to cancel the concert in the framework of event and hold only the demonstration.
Also there was distributed public information that thematic pickets in Hrodna and Vitsebsk, also demonstration in the Kyiv Park in Minsk were banned. These examples witnesses restrictive and selective approach towards allowing the mass events to be hold.
Initiated by the RHRPA “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, during the demonstration was held public monitoring by 15 observers who filled unified cards. The aim of monitoring was to evaluate objectively the character of gathering, also to fix all possible violations of human rights during the event. Relating to the information from the cards was established, how the event was held, how law enforcement forces and participants of the demonstration acted. In the given report we speak about several aspects of the monitoring results, give analysis on how the mass event met international standards in the field of freedom of assembly and suggest recommendations for public officers and organizers.
1) Should be mentioned peaceful character of the mass event during all the duration of the event (when its “organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent”).
2) Despite the fact that organizers met all the legislation requirements about filling out application and the Executive Committee answered 7 days before the date of demonstration, as a result of arbitrary change of the time of mass event there was infringement of freedom of assembly. Also there was attempt to oblige organizers to pay too big amount of money for service of maintenance of public order, sanitary and medical service, while according to the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, these entitlements are positive obligations of a State (which should be fulfilled by the State independently and automatically without any additional efforts of the organizers of event). The procedure of getting permission for the peaceful assembly is contrary to the international standards (recommendation 98.11 of the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council for 2010) and thus, devalues the right of Peaceful Assembly.
3) The deep concerns cause arbitrary detention of demonstration participants during and after the event. There are facts about detention of five persons. Detentions of mass event participants were, on our opinion, illegal, and had an aim to intimidate the citizen and to continue arbitrary repressions towards political opposition and social activists.
4) The positive factor is that law enforcement officers and the Executive Committee servants do not mind the fact event was attended by even more people than it was declared earlier.
5) Should be mentioned that the most part of law enforcement officers on the event couldn’t be identified due to not wearing the uniform, and most of those wearing uniform had no identification number signs.
6) The positive factor is the prior consent of the event organizers to communicate with observers group and to offer them all the information and documents needed. At the same time it was impossible to identify the person from the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee responsible for keeping the public order.
2. During the mass event:
During the mass event there were established the following facts:
- The amount of people participating in the event was prior declared up to 950. The people participated was around 1425. Around 1200 person have joined in the middle of demonstration route. At the Friendship of Nations Park entrance there were 700 people and 500 in the Park. After 16:40 pm amount of participants started to decrease.
- It’s more difficult to establish the amount of law enforcement officers due to absence of identifying signs. Thus, there were 50 people with the “OMON” sign, and around 60 in the civil clothes with special equipment (headphones, radio sets). There were also representatives of executives of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee and the District Department of Internal Affairs who were in the civil clothes and without any distinguishing signs. The police officers had with them: handcuffs, rubber sticks, special light, sound distracting devices.
- There were no obstacles for participants to get to the place of gathering. Metal detectors around the concert area of the Friendship on Nations Park were not used.
- There were no obstacles for the working process of mass media in general, but when police officers started to fill out minute of moving violation committed by one of the participants of the demonstration on the Bahdanovich Street, operators were not allowed to shoot the police officers.
- There were two facts of obstruction to the work or observers. On the gathering place observers who were supposed to count the amount of participants were not allowed to step on the stairs of Kastrychnik cinema. Also after the event police officers deleted video showing the process of detention one of the participants from the camera of the observer. In the case observer refuse to delete video the police officers threatened her to confiscate the camera, to format the card and to detain her.
- Also is worth mentioning the fact that despite the observers requests police officers were not open to provide the information regarding amount of officers present and the type of keeping the public order.
- Organizers of the mass event were wearing the badges, the helping team was absent.
- There were not defined any calls for violence.
- Participants were using the following posters and banners: “Freedom Day”, “Send Putin to the Hague!!!”, “There’s no Potatoes without Dill!", “For our Freedom and Yours”, “For Independent Belarus”, “Crimea for Ukraine – Happiness for the Country”, “Awake!”, “Belarusian Language – the Only State Language”, “Let’s Preserve Independent Belarus”, “Belarus to Europe”, “We are Europeans”, “Russia is War” and the photos of political prisoners.
- The following symbols were used: white-red-white flags, flags of Ukraine, flag of Azerbaijan, flags of “European Belarus” campaign, the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, flags of the Independent Trade Union of Radio Electronic Industry.
- The following slogans were used: “Long Live Belarus!”, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes ”, “Who does not jump is a Muscovite ”, “We believe, we can, we’ll win”;
- There were no requirements to the participants from the organizers. The requirements of the law enforcement officers to the participants were fulfilled.
- Police officers didn’t use the force during the mass event, but after the event one of observers established the fact of using force during detain process of one of the participant.
- Sometimes the emergency car appeared in front of the demonstration place.
- The police officers often admonished the participants not to go far from the main flow of people. Also they claimed to remove all the symbols, even a little ribbon while the march ended and they left the territory of the Park.
- Police officers detained 5 people during and after the demonstration. Tsimur Sidoryk argued with the OMON officers about hiding the flag leaving the Bangalore square. Near Kalinina Street he was detained by the police officers wearing the civil clothes while he was going out from the bus. They took him into the blue minibus Volkswagen. Among other detained there were: a man with the flag of Azerbaijan and two 17-year old boys who participated in the demonstration wearing the black balaclavas and national symbols. After being warned by the police, the boys tried to leave the place, but in vain. All that is known for the moment is detained have been placed in to the Savetski District Police Department, where they were kept for three hours and then have been released. Detained were slapped and threatened. The ex-political prisoner Eduard Lobau was detained for identification and the he was released after 10 minutes without filling the protocol.
To the organizers:
- To communicate with law enforcement services and the participants in a more active way. To pay the very attention to the opportunity of free movement through the junctions and while people is moving to the place where the demonstration is going to be hold. When possible, to form a helping team.
To the Minsk City Executive Committee:
- Not to arbitrary limit the right of peaceful assembly, do not devalue this right by making arbitrary changes of the time of the mass event and obliging the organizers to pay the biggest amounts of money to keep the public order, or to provide the sanitary and medical services.
- To stop the practice the arbitrary rejections to organize the peaceful assembly.
To the law enforcement officers:
- To stop continuous practice of arbitrary detention of participants during and after peaceful assembly activities.
- According to the Art. 5 of the law “On the bodies of internal affairs” of the Republic of Belarus, “the work of the internal affairs bodies is public”. Taking into account the given norm, we suggest all the law enforcement officers to keep public order during the mass events wearing the uniform, and also to be marked by signs of identification (i.e. badges or signs on the chest).
- To define the contact person from the law enforcement officers for communication with observers, mass media and organizers of the mass event.
- To provide opportunities for free movement of the peoples flow through the junctions, by stopping the transport.
To the subjects, who are entitled to the legislative initiative:
- To initiate changes into the current legislation for bringing it with compliance with the international standards of the freedom of the peaceful assembly.