Monitoring report on the street action on 1 May in Minsk Photo
On 1 May a street action took place in Minsk. It was announced as a festive meeting dedicated to Labour Day.
- During the whole event the street action had exclusively peaceful character ("its organizers have peaceful intentions and the meeting has nonviolent character"). Participants didn't call for violence, their actions fall under international legal protection.
- Preventive detentions of organizers and the prosecution of participants after the street action is inadmissible.
- It was impossible to identify police officers during the street action because a considerable part of their uniform and ID badges were absent. It made differentiating between them and the participants very hard; it was difficult to tell what were the responsibilities of these or that police officers; their functions were not clear;
- Mass presence of police officers in civilian clothes didn't guarantee that they fulfilled their positive obligations well so that people could realize their right for peaceful assemblies. Thus, they didn't help people to cross intersections safely and continuously and also didn't protect the most vulnerable groups of protesters which could be attacked by counter-protesters, or other participants of the street action.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 presence of a disproportionately large number of special police vehicles was causing tensions and producing a feeling that the street action will probably be terminated by force. And it can be regarded as an element of intimidation of peaceful protesters.
- Police officers impeded the activity of observers. Without explanation, riot militia required observers to leave the venue of a briefing before the street action.
- It is a positive development that there was an information group from the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee during the action, however it should be noted that its members were unwilling to interact with observers.
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 with an inscription #controlBY.
On 26 April 2017 Mikalai Statkevich, the organizer of the event, notified Minsk City Executive Committee about the intention of the Belarusian National Congress to hold a festive meeting on 1 May 2017 on the Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk beginning at 14:00. The procedure of notification is a standard and allowed practice established for the realization of the right for peaceful assemblies.
Online media and social networks widely covered the information on the street action.
On 28 May the detention of Mikalai Statkevich was reported.
Eight observers who had undergone corresponding training and were properly identified were present during the mass event on 1 May 2017 and were continuously exercising public control.
What happened during the public event
During the mass action the following facts were noted down:
- At 13:40 a group of observers gathered near a Tsentralny supermarket to prepare for observation, at that moment two riot militia officers approached them and demanded to disperse, referring to the bans on meetings that day.
- The mass event took place on 1 May 2017 and lasted from 14:00 till 15:10. Participants started to gather at Kastrychnitskaya Square at 13:40. At 14:00 the number of participants was no less than 300 people. Also there were information group police officers, four riot militia officers, about 40 law enforcement officers in civilian clothes. There was a large number of special police vehicles in that square: six prisoner transport vehicles, four minibuses, a bus with riot militia. Unidentified people were operating an unmanned aerial vehicle on a tower roof of the Central House of Officers situated opposite the square.
- At 14:05 a police officer with sound-amplifying equipment appeared on the square and demanded the participants to stop the unauthorized street action and to disperse, he warned them that otherwise they could be subjects to administrative detention.
- Approximately at 14:10 a woman with a flag of the USSR defiantly crossed the square, participants and law enforcement officers expressed no reaction.
- At 14:20 protesters occupied the steps of the Palace of the Republic and began the street action. Police officers demanded to stop the unauthorized event again, at the same time the sound-amplifying equipment used by a police officer made it practically impossible for participants to be heard.
- Activists required to release political prisoners, they told that it was inadmissible for authorities to use force methods to suppress protests and that they were inefficient, they condemned the communistic and Nazi principles of government rule. They reproached human rights organizations for being afraid to recognize a number of people under investigation as political prisoners.
- At 14:40 participants made their way to Nezalezhnastsi Square in an organized manner. There were about 400 people participating. During the street action one of protesters used fireworks. Two prisoner transport vehicles, minibuses filled with people in riot militia uniform and bullet-proof vests, several police vehicles without registration numbers and identifying signs were moving alongside with protesters. These vehicles were making it hard to see protesters.
- At 15:05 a street action took place on Nezalezhnastsi Square near the Red Church. About 250 people participated. Organizers of the street action read the requirements of the Belarusian National Congress resolution, suggested the audience to vote in its support, the vote was unanimous, so at 15:10 they announced the end of the street action.
- In a few hours it was reported that three participants of the street action – Pavel Seviarynets, Maksim Viniarski and Natallia Papkova – were detained.
- There were media representatives who were actively taking photos, shooting video, communicating with participants. There were no hindrances to their work.
- There were obstacles for people who wanted to arrive to the gathering place, in particular, riot militia officers blocked sidewalks on the way to Kastrychnitskaya Square on Nezalezhnostsi Avenue (from McDonald's restaurant to the entrance of Kastrychnitskaya subway station, also a transfer to Kupalauskaya station).
- No appeals for violence from organizers and participants were detected.
- The following symbolics was used: white-red-white flags, flag of "European Belarus", a Belarusian national flag.
The following slogans were used: "Long live Belarus!", "Solidarity!", "No to the decree No. 3", "Don't be afraid!", "Freedom!", "Freedom to the people!", "No to the empire; no to Putin; yes to Belarus", "Resign!", "Freedom to Statkevich!", "Enough!".
- to make a group of participants more dense by suspending its movement, organizing a support team and taking other measures;
- to harmonize the possibility of free movement with police officers in advance whenever possible.
To law enforcement officers:
- to stop arbitrary detentions and prosecution of participants of peaceful demonstrations as it violates human rights which the Republic of Belarus voluntarily pledged to respect;
- according to Art. 5 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On internal affairs agencies": "the activity of internal affairs agencies is transparent". In accordance with this law, we recommend all police officers to ensure public order during mass events wearing their uniform and being identified by corresponding means (badges or breastplates);
- to provide free movement of participants through intersections by stopping traffic flow.
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.