Monitoring report on a picket in Minsk, 22 June 2017
A street action dedicated to detainees in the “patriots case” took place on Kastrychnitskaya square on 22 June 2017 in Minsk.
- 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.
- It was impossible to identify police officers during the street action because a considerable part of them was wearing civilian clothes.
- The mass event was accompanied by a program about the beginning of the Great Patriotic War shown on a big screen. After the participant of the picket unfolded their banners the volume of the program was turned up, it can be considered as a hindrance to the realization of a constitutional right of all citizens for a free expression of opinion.
- It is a positive development that occasionally there was an information group from the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee during the street action, however its representative didn't communicate with participants or journalists.
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 22 June, 2017 social networks announced that there would be a street action dedicated to political prisoners and detainees in the “patriots case”.
Two observers who had undergone corresponding training and were properly identified were present during the mass event and were continuously exercising public control.
What happened during the public event
During the mass action the following facts were noted down:
- The mass event took place on 22 June, 2017 and lasted from 18:00 till 18:40. Participants started to gather at Kastrychnitskaya Square at 17:40. At 18:00 the number of participants was 8 people. Also there was one information group police officer, two riot militia officers, about 25 law enforcement officers in civilian clothes.
- At 18:00 participants lined up and unfolded the banners with the photos of political prisoners and detainees in the “patriots case”.
- At 18:05 the volume of the program about the beginning of the Great Patriotic War shown on a big screen was turned up, the participant of the picket were surrounded by police officers in civilian clothes.
- At 18:00 a police officer (a representative of the information group from the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs) without sound-amplifying equipment appeared on the square and demanded the participants to stop the unauthorized street action. He demanded participants to stop the mass event threatening them with administrative responsibility. At the same time he was in possession of sound-amplifying equipment.
- Activists required to release political prisoners.
- Four law enforcement officers in civilian clothes filmed the mass event hiding their faces from being photographed.
- At 18:00 a prisoner transport vehicles moving on Nezalezhnastsi Avenue drove near the picket venue. After the participants started to disperse, observers followed them because it was very probable that they would be detained. Law enforcement officers in civilian clothes followed participants till they reached public transport stops.
- There were media representatives who were taking photos, shooting video, communicating with participants. There were no hindrances to their work or to the activity of observers.
- There ware no appeals for violence from organizers and participants.
- The following signs were used: a banner “Freedom to political prisoners”, “free Paliyenka”, a photo of Siarhei Strybulski, a poster “Why can't you listen to the people! Why do you have to arrest, fine and oppress!”
To law enforcement officers:
- to ensure public order during mass events wearing the uniform and being identified by corresponding means (badges or breastplates);
- the information group from the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee should communicate with journalists and observers, be present during the whole 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.