Observatory condemns harassment of Viasna activist Ales Burakou
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment of Mr. Ales Burakou, a human rights defender and journalist, editor of the human rights web platform “Human rights in Mogilev” (the regional website of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”), and member of the FIDH-affiliated organisation Human Rights Center “Viasna” (HRC “Viasna”).
According to the information received, on October 8, 2018, the Office for the economic crimes of the Oktyabrsky Department of Internal Affairs of Mogilev (ROVD) launched an investigation into Mr. Burakou’s activities as a human rights defender and journalist under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, on suspicion of “involvement in the activities of an unregistered organization”, the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, putting pressure on him in an attempt to halt his human rights-related journalism. The investigation alleges that Mr. Burakou’s activities relate to the HRC “Viasna” and therefore violate Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, which was used in the past by the authorities to harass other representatives of the HRC “Viasna” .
On November 8, Mr. Burakou was summoned to the ROVD to provide explanations about his activities related to the web platform “Human rights in Mogilev”, as well as to the HRC “Viasna” and it was through the interrogating officer that Mr. Burakou was informed about the investigation for the first time. Mr. Burakou refused to give self-incriminating statements, invoking Article 27 of the the Constitution . The ROVD official who interrogated Mr. Burakou, officer Mr. Pavel Kot, threatened him and warned him to stay away from human rights journalism and “to keep quiet”, otherwise he could face problems. Although Mr. Burakou was not detained or charged, the officer threatened Mr. Burakou by telling him that they “will meet again in the future”.
This is already the second attempt of the authorities to put pressure on the human rights defender. In September 2018, the ROVD conducted another investigation into Mr. Burakou’s activities related to the same web platform. Mogilev’s authorities initiated the investigation after receiving a complaint of the owners of the carbon plant “Omsk Carbon”, which was criticised by Mr. Burakou for its damaging effect on the ecosystem of Mogilev in an article published on HRC Viasna’s regional website.
The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment of Mr. Ales Burakou, as it seem to be only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory urges the authorities of Belarus to end any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and all the human rights defenders in the country.
In November 2003, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus abusively deregistered the HRC “Viasna”, which ultimately led to a prohibition of its activities in Belarus. On August 7, 2004, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee recognised this step as a violation of the right to freedom of association, which the Republic of Belarus must ensure in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (Decision No. 1296/2004). Accordingly, the UN asked the Belarusian government to provide the founders of the organisation with appropriate remedies, including the re-registration of the HRC “Viasna”. The government failed to comply with the UN decision and HRC “Viasna” remains de-registered as of today.
On November 24, 2011, the Minsk Pervomaiski District Court sentenced Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the HRC “Viasna” and then FIDH Vice-President, to four and a half years of imprisonmentunder trumped-up charges of “tax evasion” .
Please write to the authorities of Belarus, urging them to:
i. Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Ales Burakou, HRC “Viasna”, as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ales Burakou, the other members of HRC “Viasna”, and all human rights defenders in Belarus;
iii. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to freedom of association and assembly, as established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular its Articles 21 and 22;
iv. Comply with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Articles 1, 2, 5 and 12.2;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Belarus.
President Aliaksandr Lukashenko, Belarus, fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
General Prosecutor, Alexandr Konyuk, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 226 42 52, email: email@example.com;
Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 200 86 87, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Mr. Leonid Anfimov, Belarus, fax: +375 17 289 14 84, email: email@example.com ;
Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
H.E. Mr. Aleksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Fax: + 32 2.340.02.87, Email: email@example.com;
Svetlogorsk district court, Belarus, fax: +375 (2342) 7-02-47, 4-02-39; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, November 15, 2018
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
 Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus outlaws the activities of organisations which have not been registered by the State. International and Belarusian human rights organisations have repeatedly stated the unconstitutional nature of this article and its incompatibility with international human rights norms. The same opinion on Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus was also issued by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission at the Council of Europe).
 Translation: “No person shall be compelled to be a witness against oneself, members of one’s family or next of kin. Evidence obtained in violation of the law shall have no legal force.”
 See, inter alia, Observatory Urgent Appeal BLR 007 / 0811 / OBS 104.7, published on June 19, 2012.