Report on monitoring peaceful assembly on November 8 in Minsk Photo
- The gathering was of a peaceful character (according to the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, the assembly is peaceful if “its organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent”). The participants did not articulate any calls for violence or war and did not use or provoke violence.
- During the peaceful assembly, the identification of law enforcement officials was impossible, as they were dressed in plain clothes with no identification marks.
- No interruptions to the work of independent observers were registered.
- Several cases of detention were registered; three representatives of the German media were detained during the assembly and released in 2.5 hours; Andrei Sharenda, a participant of the assembly, was detained and then released in 15 minutes; before the start of the assembly, Dzmitry Kazlou, a candidate for the House of Representatives and blogger from Orša, was detained.
- The peaceful assembly was a part of the candidates’ election campaigns for the House of Representatives.
The National Human Rights Public Association “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” systematically monitor peaceful assemblies in Belarus, using a developed monitoring methodology. It includes recruitment and training of observers (the recruited observers are taught principles of civilian control, international standards of peaceful assembly conduct and monitoring methodology); filling in monitoring questionnaires during observation; processing the questionnaires and writing monitoring reports. The questionnaires for peaceful assemblies monitoring are developed in cooperation with other human rights organizations and include such points as the possibility for the observers and mass media representatives to work without obstructions; the conduct of organizers, participants, and law enforcement officials; the presence of an ambulance and medical rescue teams. Observers are only permitted to work if they agree with monitoring rules and principles, such as political independence and neutrality, providing factual information, non-interference, adherence to the principles of law, rejection of any form of violence or discriminatory practices, appropriate behavior. They are marked with blue vests with an inscription #СontrolBY and have attestation certificates.
On October 25, 2019, a popular Telegram-blogger NEXTA published a film “Lukashenka – Crime Materials”, where President Lukashenka was criticized. The film provoked intensive discussion among the people, the number of views exceeded 1.5 mln. In early November, the blogger called for a gathering in Svaboda Square on November 8 in order to discuss further actions. The information was widely circulated throughout networks, the distribution of leaflets about the upcoming meeting was registered. It was also reported that the peaceful assembly was to be a part of some of the candidates’ election campaigns for the House of Representatives.
The Elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the 7th convocation were held in Belarus on November 17, 2019. From 18 October to 16 November 2019, the phase of campaigning took place, including peaceful assemblies of candidates. Such activities (pickets, meetings, etc.) were held by a candidate or their proxies; they were required to notify the local executive body; there were no strict rules as for the venue; the organizers were not required to conclude contracts and pay for law enforcement, medical and cleaning services.
During the morning and afternoon on November 8, mass media reported the government’s focus on known bloggers and activists planning to participate in the assembly.
During the assembly, four observers were conducting civilian control directly and continuously. They had been trained and were properly marked.
Course of the peaceful assembly
The observation began at 17:36 and finished at 21:03. During the observation, the following was noted:
1. Near the observed peaceful assembly and oppositional candidates’ picket, the picket of Siarhei Klishevich, a candidate in Kastryčnicki electoral district 97 (First Secretary of the BRYU Minsk City Committee), was conducted. This picket was accompanied by loud music that provided inconvenience and made other participants move to the other side of the Town Hall building (Svaboda Square, 2).
2. At 17:00, according to mass media, Alena Talstaya’s campaigning picket began. At 18:00 (announced time of the gathering), no less than 300 participants were present at the meeting point. The general number of participants was at least 500. At 20:40, 46 participants were present at the gathering.
3. During the peaceful assembly in Svaboda Square, there were no less than 9 media representatives including the state media. At around 18:00, a representative of the German media Demian von Osten was detained and then he shared this information on Twitter.
The reporters Siarhei Siarheyeu and Aliaksandr Saldatau were detained, too.
4. During the assembly in Svaboda Square, there were at least 50 law enforcement officials in plain clothing present (they could be recognized by the handheld transceivers and headphones, video recorders and handheld video cameras); uniformed police employees were not noticed. Three law enforcement officials in jackets with BRYU logo were present at the gathering. During the entire meeting, the officials were observing, three of them filmed the event using handheld video cameras. In the area around the place of the assembly, there were two vehicles with video equipment. No ambulance vehicles were present. Four uniformed road police employees were noticed at the nearest crossroads and parking zones.
5. At around 18:00, several participants of the meeting (including Andrei Sharenda) climbed on the back of a vehicle and tried to set a speaker box. Law enforcement officials were obstructing their actions, then a conflict arose. As a result, the speaker box was smashed and Andrei Sharenda was detained (with the use of force, he was moved into the Town Hall building). The participants of the meeting were chanting “Disgrace!” and arguing with the law enforcement employees, demanded to release the detained activist. Approximately 10 minutes later, Sharenda was released from the Town Hall building and was able to speak.
6. At the place of the meeting, there were the campaigning stands of some of the candidates. Two of them (belonging to the campaign “European Belarus”) were identical and contained excerpts of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, a photo of the “European Belarus” team, contacts and the inscriptions “To the Kolkhoz mafia – basta! To the Astraviec NPP – basta!”. A photo of NЕХТА was placed beside. At a nearby stand “For Alena Talstaya”, Alena’s photo was placed, the information about her and her electoral district, a “white-red-white” illustration with the Pahonya emblem, the logo of the Movement “Razam”, and the inscription “Alliance with Russia - war and poverty!”
7. Symbols/insignia used: 7 “white-red-white” flags; 4 flags and 1 poster “NЕХТА”, 1 UCP (United Сivic Party of Belarus) flag; 2 red flags with the Pahonya emblem; 3 European Union flags with an inscription “Belarus”. A poster “Freedom to the people” taped on the back of one of the participants, a flag reading “Studies that's what matters”.
9. Participants’ speeches were conducted in a free format, everyone could speak standing on a bench. Several of them used a microphone. One of the participants, Andrei Voinich, in his speech called on the others: “Think about what to do next!”; blogger Uladzimir Tsykhanovich spoke about the existing problems in Belarus. Volha Nikalaichyk, an activist, made a speech: “I call the Belarusians for peaceful meetings, peaceful pickets so that the government could grow tired and go! Lukashenka – go away! We hate this dictatorship!”. Alena Talstaya, a candidate for parliament, called on the people to express their attitude towards Belarus, the elections and the independence of our country on November 17. Dzianis Krasachka called to join the organizations “Viasna” and “The Right to Elect”, to help observers and to observe elections by themselves. The participants played a video message from NEXTA, where he called to stop being patient and tolerating this and to propose ideas at the assembly. One of the participants of “European Belarus” appealed to gather at Kastryčnickaja Square on November 15 at 18:00 despite the authorities’ obstruction. Two participants of the assembly were present with their faces covered with scarves. Their conduct caused no suspicion of having illegal action intentions and was of a peaceful character.
10. The ending of the meeting was not announced, the participants dispersed spontaneously.
For the law enforcement representatives:
to provide public security in uniform and use individual identification marks (badges, lapel pins);
to designate a contact person out of law enforcement officers to provide communication with observers, mass media representatives, organizers and participants of a peaceful assembly;
not to impede the work of mass media, in particular, not to practice the detention of reporters without a clear and definite basis;
not to detain participants of peaceful assemblies without clear and definite voiced basis as it presents a limitation of the right to assemble peacefully provided under international commitments of the Republic of Belarus in the field of human rights;
For the subjects of legislative powers:
to initiate domestic legislation changes to bring it into compliance with the international standards in the field of freedom of assembly.