Niakliayeu is the first victim of ‘ruthless liberalization’
The court of Lieninski district of Minsk sentenced yesterday opposition leader Uladzimir Niakliayeu to 10 days of administrative detention, finding him guilty of violating Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (breaching demonstration rules).
The charges stemmed, according to the police, from Niakliayeu’s alleged calls for participation in the protest “March of Angry Belarusians 2.0”, which violated the regulations for organizing public events. The police referred to a publication on the website charter97.org.
Looking ahead, I will say that I think the decision handed down by the court to Mr. Niakliayeu is illegal and should be revoked for the following reasons.
Article 8 of the Law "On Mass Events" of 30 December 1997 does prohibit organizers of public events, as well as other persons to announce in the media, the Internet or other information networks the date, place and time of the meeting, to manufacture and distribute leaflets, posters and other materials before obtaining formal permission from the authorities.
At the same time, parts 1 and 2 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code only mention the participants and organizers of events as the subjects of the offense (including public calls for the organization or holding mass events in violation of the established rules). Thus, even assuming that Mr. Niakliayeu did urge in an interview with Belsat to join the March of Angry Belarusians 2.0 (although his words do not suggest this), he could not be brought to administrative responsibility under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code due to the fact that he was neither a participant nor the organizer of the event. The only organizer of the planned march, according to a written reply by the Minsk city authorities, was Mikalai Statkevich.
Thus, the actions of Mr. Niakliayeu do not constitute an offense under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code. I do hope that the court ruling will be canceled after an appeal hearing at the Minsk City Court.
However, we can say that Niakliayeu is the first victim of ‘ruthless liberalization’ recently announced by Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich.
The House of Representatives has passed in the first reading the Law "On Amendments to Certain Laws of the Republic of Belarus on Mass Events." According to Article 2 of the Act, part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code will be amended. As a result, a ban on the public calls to take part in mass events in violation of established procedure will also apply to other persons, in addition to participants in these meetings. Thus, part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code will be brought in line with Article 8 of the Law "On Mass Events".
What will this mean in practice?
For example, sharing in social networks (by someone other than the organizer and the participant of the event) of a post calling for participation in an unauthorized mass event will constitute an offense under Part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code. Interviews containing such calls, which other persons give to the media, will result in an administrative detention for up to 15 days (which is what happened with Niakliayeu).
The case of Mr. Niakliayeu clearly demonstrates the future legal approaches of the authorities. In general, the amendments to the Law "On Mass Events", in our view, do not essentially change the situation with the implementation of the right to peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the Constitution. The possibility of exercising this right in practice, as before, remains extremely limited, and the Act itself, as before, does not meet international standards for freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"