Monitoring report on the picket held on September 16 to mark 16th anniversary of the disappearance of prominent figures
The picket held on September 16, 2015 was of a peaceful nature. The absence of an application for holding the mass action, as required by law, is not a reason to limit the freedom of peaceful assembly. The charges brought against the organizers of the picket, Anatol Liabedzka and Mikalai Kazlou, can be considered as interference in the assembly by the police, although we stress the positive practice of compiling the administrative offense report on the spot, without physically detaining the person facing the charges. At the same time, the procedure suspended the demonstration for a few minutes, and therefore it should have been done after the rally.
As before, the main problem of peaceful assemblies in Belarus is linked to the failure to properly implement positive obligations on the part of the authorities: police officers were not properly marked, as a result they could not be identified; they also failed to ensure the protection of demonstrators from counter-demonstrators.
A few days before the rally, the website of the United Civil Party posted information about a picket that was expected to be staged on September 16 outside the HUM department store in Minsk in order to mark the 16th anniversary since the disappearance of several Belarusian politicians.
During the mass event on September 16, full-time and continuous civil control was carried by five observers who had been trained and were properly marked (blue vests and badges).
The course of the assembly
- One of the organizers of the picket, Anatol Liabedzka, appeared on the site of picketing 15 minutes before the scheduled time and talked to reporters. At 18:21, he was joined by eight more people, who put up two wooden information boards with the words "We Remember" and information on the case of the missing politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka, as well as businessman Anatol Krasouski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski. The protesters were standing along the shop windows, while Anatol Liabedzka used a megaphone to tell about the essence of the picket. At 18:33, Anatol Liabedzka was approached by the only uniformed police officer who started compiling a report on an administrative offense under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code ("violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events", as the organizer of the unauthorized picket), without explaining the politician’s rights and duties, and paralyzing the organizer’s possibility to continue the picket.
- At 18:45, the police officer came up, together with four police officers in civilian clothes, to Mikalai Kazlou, who was standing in the chain of picketers, and started compiling a report on an administrative offense under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
- The number of picketers varied between 9 and 17 persons from the beginning to its completion.
- The number of police officers was difficult to determine because of the lack of markings on the vast majority of law enforcement employees. In particular, there was one traffic police officer wearing a uniform labeled "Police", 20 persons in civilian clothes with distinctive signs (headphones, walkie-talkies). All the senior officers of the Minsk city police department and the district police departments were in civilian clothes with no identifying marks. Three police officers were filming the picket with video cameras, one was wearing sunglasses with a built-in mini-camera. Across the road, the observers saw a blue minibus with a device that was filming the picket, as well as, possibly scanning the data of mobile phones registered on the site of the rally.
- There were no obstacles to arriving at the place of assembly.
- In general, there were no obstacles to the work of the media.
- There were no obstacles to the work of the observers.
- The organizers of the rally were not marked.
- There were no calls for violent actions from the demonstrators.
- One woman asked provocative questions and entered into a dispute with the participants of the picket, to which the police did not react.
- The following symbols were used: two white-red-white flags, two flags of the United Civil Party, two flags of the campaign "European Belarus".
- The picket featured an address of Anatol Liabedzka with the use of a megaphone.
- The organizers did not express any demands to the participants.
- Police officers did not use violence during the picket.
- The observers did not witness any ambulances.
- At times, the crowd around the group of picketers interfered with pedestrians.
- The demonstrators started leaving the scene at around 18:52, but a small group of people was still there for about 15 more minutes.
To law enforcement officials:
1) to maintain public order during mass events in uniform, as well as being designated with identification cards (badges or pins);
2) to mark a contact person from the number of police officers to communicate with observers, the media and the organizers of mass events;
3) to drop the administrative charges against Anatol Liabedzka and Mikalai Kazlou in connection with their exercise of the right to freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 35 of the Constitution, Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international instruments on human rights.
To entities possessing the right of legislative initiative:
4) to initiate changes in the legislation in order to bring it into line with international standards on freedom of peaceful assembly.