Monitoring report on "Chernobyl Way-2017" street action in Minsk, 26 April Photo
On April 26, 2017 traditional street action on the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 took place in Minsk.
- The peaceful character of the street action is reported ("its organizers have peaceful intentions and the meeting has nonviolent character"). The termination of arbitrary detentions connected with the implementation of the right to peaceful assembly is an important positive step by Belarusian authorities.
- At the same time it was impossible to identify police officers during the street action because a considerable part of their uniform was absent. It made differentiating between them and the participants impossible; it was impossible to tell what were the responsibilities of these or that police officers; their functions were not clear; and it is also impossible to understand which police officer to address in case of emergency. We point out that according to OSСE/ODIHR's Human Rights Handbook on Policing Assemblies, developed especially for internal affairs officers, the basic principles of law enforcement during public assemblies are the possession of information, assistance, communication and differentiated approach to assembly participants.
- The lack of the free movement and the absence of press representatives somewhat limited the right for peaceful assemblies of the participants.
For several years The National Human Rights Public Association “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and Human Rights Center "Viasna" have been conducting systematic observations of public events based of a monitoring methodology which includes: recruiting observers and training them in the principles of public control, in the standards of peaceful assemblies and observation methodology; in filling an observer's questionnaire during internal control; processing of questionnaires and writing a monitoring report.
Questionnaires on the observation of public events were developed by two human rights organizations mentioned, they include questions establishing whether observers and media have a possibility to function, how do the organizers of a public event, its participants and police officers behave, and also whether the ambulance is present. Observers are allowed to observe only if they agree to follow the rules and the principles of observation (independence and political neutrality; description of facts, but not opinions; non-interference into the event observed; commitment to the principles of law; refusal of any forms of violence and discrimination; appropriate behavior). During the fulfillment of their functions observers should stand apart from participants. They should be identified with observers' badges and blue vests.
Media and social networks widely covered how organizers were obtaining the permission. The application was submitted by two groups of organizers. One organizing committee included representatives of United Civic Party of Belarus, Belarusian Popular Front and Belarusian Green Party, Belarusian Christian Democracy, the Movement For Freedom and Razam Movement, a campaign Tell the Truth. They planned to gather on Paryzhskay Kamuny sq. at 18:00 and then to move to the Chernobyl chapel in Druzhby Narodau park. On April 17 Minsk City Executive Committee sanctioned the public event but within its traditional route: to gather near Oktyabr movie theater at 14:00 and to move to the Chernobyl chapel down the Surganova st. Applicants contested its decision, and the time of gathering was postponed to 17:30.
The second group of applicants (Conservative Christian Party – BPF) submitted the application for a street action in Kiyevsky park from 18:00 till 20:00 and received an affirmative answer from Minsk City Executive Committee.
Thus, two street actions sanctioned by the authorities had to take place at the same time on 26 April 2017 in Minsk. Applicants of the street action starting near Oktyabr movie theater told that everyone who wanted could join the street action in Kiyevsky park after the end of a march to the Chernobyl chapel in Druzhby Narodau park.
Ten trained observers, properly identified by blue vests and observers' badges, were present during the public event on 26 April 2017 and were exercising continuous public control.
What happened during the public event
- Observers began a monitoring at 17:45 near Oktyabr movie theater where about 250 people had already gathered. Riot militia surrounded the place of the gathering and was searching personal belongings.
- At 18:00 organizers started to speak via sound-amplifying equipment.
- At 18:30 protesters started to move in an organized manner down Surganova st. The number of participants in the beginning of the street action, near Riga shop and near the Chernobyl chapel was approximately the same and it was about 500 people.
- Riot militia and traffic police strictly controlled the movement of participants, forbade to deviate from the route, broke the moving crowd into two parts at traffic lights and stopped them at intersections with a human chain.
- The way to the Chernobyl chapel was surrounded with barrier tape and several steel barricades. Participants stayed near the chapel for about 15 minutes, part of them went along Orlovskaya st. to Kiyevsky park to the place of the second authorized street action, i.e. to the space in front of Kiev movie theater where about 100 people had already gathered.
- Observers noted that at 20:15 all participants of the demonstration had left Kiyevsky park and had dispersed.
- During the street action there were about 30 riot militia and police officers, about 10 traffic police officers and 50 units in civilian clothes. At 18:10 police officers closed passages from the Academy of Sciences subway station to the place of gathering, at the meeting place officers were examining belongings of participants. Near Kiyevsky park there were numerous special police vehicles.
- There were no obstacles for those who arrived to the demonstration by individual and public transport; there were no disruptions in work of media; there were no obstacles to the work of observers though police officers didn't make contact with them.
- No calls for violence from organizers and participants have been recorded.
- Banners with the following content have been noticed: "Long live independent Belarus", "It's time to stop Astravets monster", "No to Astravets NPP", "Chernobyl is an extension of Russian genocide of Belarusian people!"
- There were banners saying "Our nation dies because of Lukashenko and radiation", "An atom cannot be peaceful, even a zebra knows it", "Come on", "We will die out like dinosaurs", "Choose the Sun side" "They didn't choose the reactor, one had fallen so they lifted the other", "Do not want", "It's our concern, and raccoon's too", "Delete NPP? Yes? No?", "God forgive "NPP"", "You reap what you saw, I don't want my milk to be radioactive", "Build new clinics for officials", "Give the second Chernobyl to Belarusians", posters with portraits "Freedom to political prisoners": Sergey Stribulsky, Taras Avatar, Vadim Boyko, Philip Ivanov, Ilya Volovik, Dmitry Tsekhanovich, Ales Evdakho. There were banners "Eduard Palchys is our John Silver in the clutches of FSB", "NPP (radioactivity sign) regress", a flag "Enroll in Young Front".
- During the demonstration there were eight white-red-white flags, a flag of Slutsk, a flag of the United Civic Party of Belarus, four flags of the Movement For Freedom, four flags of Belarusian Christian Democracy, a flag with the Pahonia coat of arms, a green flag, flags on shoulders, also "European Belarus" and Ukrainian flags.
- Ambulance vehicles were situated only near several points (at the place of gathering, near Riga shop), but they were not continuously accompanying the demonstration.
To law enforcement officers:
* to protect public order during street actions wearing a uniform and being identified with appropriate means (badges);
* to appoint a contact person from police officers to communicate with observers, media and the organizers of a street action;
To Minsk City Executive Committee:
* to adhere to the law On Mass Events and inform mass event organizer of their decision on the submitted application in a timely manner;
* not to forbid holding a mass event on formal grounds and to work according to internationally recognized presumption in favor of holding a mass event;
To people having the right to initiate a legislation:
* to initiate changes in the legislation to make it comply with international standards of freedom of peaceful assembly.