Report on monitoring the peaceful assemblies on March 25, 2018 in Minsk
On March 25, 2018, events timed to the centenary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People's Republic were held in Minsk.
- The mass events were peaceful (when "the organizers have peaceful intentions and the assembly is non-violent", according to the OSCE's Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). The participants did not use calls for violence and did not use violence.
- There were arbitrary detentions of participants of the peaceful assembly: the event in Yakub Kolas Square was stopped by the authorities before its actual start. A few days before the event, the organizers and the activists who publicly expressed their intention to take part in the rally in Yakub Kolas Square and the procession were detained. During the meeting, the participants did not have the opportunity to express their opinion, they were detained by law enforcement officers or asked to leave the venue. The very necessity of obtaining permission to hold a peaceful assembly contradicts international norms of law and adversely affects the implementation of this right in the Republic of Belarus.
- During the monitoring, seven observers from the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee were illegally detained, six were taken to the Saviecki district police department of Minsk, one more - to the police department of the Pieršamajski district of Minsk. Charges of administrative violation for "participation in the event" were brought against 5 observers; Tatsiana Mastykina faced an additional charge of "disobeying a legitimate order of a law enforcement officer". Also, detentions and obstacles in the work of the mass media were noted.
- Preventive detention of activists across the country violates the rights to personal integrity and freedom of expression.
- The area in front of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater has a large number of narrow sidewalks to move from one part of the park to the other. During the movement of a large number of people, as it happened on March 25, 2018, this created a situation of difficult movement.
- People using moving aids, in this case, were even more constrained in their movements. Accordingly, it was initially impossible to provide conditions for free movement for people with musculoskeletal disorders and visual impairment in the area.
On March 2, 2018, the organizers (the Belarusian People's Front "Adradzhanne" party, the United Civil Party, the movement "For Freedom", the Belarusian Social Democratic Party "Hramada" and the informational and educational movement "Amaroka" ) were given permission to hold a mass event in the following order: gathering of participants from 13:00 to 14:00 at the plaza in front of the National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theater (1 Paris Commune Square); a rally and a concert (using the stage, stage equipment and sound amplification equipment) from 14:00 to 19:00.
On March 20, 2018, the Minsk City Executive Committee prohibited the peaceful assembly proposed in the application by the Belarusian National Congress. This prohibition was appealed by the applicants in a legal procedure.
Thus, on March 25, 2018 in Minsk it was planned to hold a festival concert authorized by the Minsk City Executive Committee in the area in front of the National Academic Bolshoi Theater of Opera and Ballet and an unauthorized rally and a demonstration from Yakub Kolas Square to the area in front of the Opera Theater.
On March 21 and 22, detainees of the activists who were members of the organizing committee for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the BNR and who earlier stated that they would go to the demonstration were detained: Viachaslau Siuchyk, Maksim Viniarski, Leanid Kulakou, Yauhen Afnahel, Uladzimir Niakliayeu.
They were arrested for a period of 5 to 10 days and placed in the offenders isolation center of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee. In the morning of March 25, 2018, Mikalai Statkevich was detained.
For several years the National Human Rights Public Association “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" have been conducting systematic observations of public events based on 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 the 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
During the peaceful assembly, 12 observers who were properly trained and properly identified were continuously and civilly monitored. Six observers were detained in Yakub Kolas Square what prevented them from monitoring. One observer was detained after the monitoring of the action in Yakub Kolas Square began. Also, two people from the Human Rights Institution "Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities" took part in the monitoring, who assessed the accessibility of the action.
What happened during the public event
During the peaceful assembly in Yakub Kolas Square the following facts were noted:
- Around the square of Yakub Kolas and directly on the square itself was special transport (avtozaks, traffic police cars, buses), policemen in the uniform and in civilian clothes.
- The beginning of the action was announced at 12.00. The monitors arrived at the training site at 11.40. Near the exit from the metro on the corner of the house 49 on Nezalezhnastsi Avenue at 11:45 two law enforcement officers in civil clothes came up to them, one of them showed an ID of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee officer and demanded to go to the minibus "for identification". The presentation of passports and certificates of observers did not affect the officer's requirement. The observers were dressed in blue uniformed waistcoats with the inscription #CONTROL.BY and had on their necks the badges of observers from the National Human Rights Public Association “Belarusian Helsinki Committee”. Later, the detainees were taken to the police department of the Saviecki district of Minsk, where they spent from six to eight hours.
- The monitoring of the peaceful assembly in Yakub Kolas Square was conducted according to information provided in the mass media and received from human rights defenders.
- Starting from 11.40 and up to 12.45 law enforcement officers appealed to all those present at the site of the peaceful assembly demanding to leave this place or go to special transport. About 30 people were detained, including elderly people and journalists. When attempting to deploy posters or flags, immediate detentions took place.
- About 12.45 detention was over. The action did not take place.
- In Yakub Kolas Square there was an information police group.
- The media and observers noted the difficulties in the work of mobile communications and the Internet in the area of the square.
When monitoring the venue of the festive concert on the square of the Paris Commune, observers paid special attention to the screening procedure. At the same time, the Minsk City Executive Committee has previously drawn attention to the fact that access to the concert venue will be only after a personal inspection of each participant.
- On the approaches to the site were five body search points, equipped with frames and tables. The search was carried out using hand-held metal detectors. Gender separation was observed during body search. At each checkpoint there were cameras that recorded all who came to the concert.
Male inspectors were carried out by employees in uniforms, the examination of females was in some cases carried out by female officers in civilian clothes that were not designated and refused to show certificates, so it was not possible to identify them as police officers.
On the perimeter of the site there were at least 183 employees in the police uniform, six police cars, four ambulances, at least three buses with policemen in uniform, eight cars of the State Automobile Inspectorate.
- The observers approximately estimate the number of participants up to 11 000 who simultaneous presence at a festive concert.
- On the site, there are cases of censorship: a participant with the US flag was asked to remove the flag, but then allowed to use it, the representatives of "Mothers' Movement 328" were forbidden to display the poster "Give us back our children" and collect signatures.
- The slogans used were: "100 years of BNR", "Freedom to Niakliayeu, Statkevich, Adamovich, Siuchyk, Kulakou, Afnahel, Smirnova and the other patriots", “100 year: not break, not stop, not hold back", "Long live Belarus! ".
- The used posters: “Dignity, unity, independence”, “We can’t live like this! Pensioners want to live and not survive!”.
- Numerous symbols were used at the venue: national white-red-white flags, BCD flags, "Alternatives", the US flag, the flag of the Republic of Lithuania. There were reports that law enforcement officials demanded to remove the symbols from outside the venue.
To law enforcement officers:
- Refuse the practice of detaining participants of a peaceful assembly before and during its holding.
- Do not interfere with the work of independent observers and the media.
- Do not use tortures and cruel inhuman treatment of detainees. Observe the procedural rules when detaining and drafting a protocol on administrative responsibility. Ensure the lawyer's access to detainees. Provide information about the whereabouts of detainees.
- Do not impede freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, be guided by the presumption of holding a peaceful assembly.
- In accordance with Art. 5 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Internal Affairs Bodies" "the activity of the internal affairs bodies is public". Guided by this rule, we propose that all employees maintain public order during mass events in uniform, and also should be identified by identification means (badges or badges).
- At the checkpoint, which was at the crossroads of Alaiza Pashkevich and Maksim Bahdanovich, the distance between the tables was less than 90 cm, which made it difficult for people who use the wheelchair to pass the test. At other checkpoints, a similar problem was not established. For the future, we recommend you to pay attention to the distance between the tables, so that it is at least one meter. Also, such checkpoints should not contain artificial land elevations / decreases.
- The officers of the State Automobile Inspectorate fostered parking of people with disabilities orally, allowed to park in the immediate vicinity of the venue (Alaiza Pashkevich Street). At the same time, these places were not designated, which created situations of non-obviousness. For the future, we recommend to identify the parking places for disabled people with temporary signs wherein choosing places with the existing technical regulations.
To the executive authority:
- To take measures to facilitate the holding of peaceful assemblies in the format chosen by the applicants.
To the subjects with legislative initiative:
- To amend the Law "On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus" to bring it in line with the norms of international law.
To the organizers:
- When announcing the program of the event, it is necessary to indicate possible barriers to attend the event, as well as the measures taken to ensure inclusion. Consultants for the preliminary assessment may be employees of associations of people with disabilities, or specialized organizations. Consultants for the preliminary assessment may be employees of associations of people with disabilities, or specialized organizations.
- In the future, provide at least one equipped bio-toilet in every place of their localization.
- It is necessary to avoid narrowing the passages due to the installation of any objects, for example, as it is depicted in the attached photos.
As indicated above, these narrowing results in difficulty in the movement of people with impaired musculoskeletal system and with visual impairment.