We call to stop repressions and pressure on civil society
June 26, 2020
Ahead of elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus, new restrictions on civil rights and freedoms have been imposed, escalation of repressions and misuse of means of criminal prosecution for struggle against political opponents of the incumbent authorities are taking place.
In April, Belarusian authorities have imposed additional restrictions on freedom of assembly – submission of an applications for permit to hold an assembly now requires preliminary approval by the MIA with conclusion of an obligatory contract on disproportionally expensive “payment for policing services”.
Adoption of the Decree №3 “On foreign gratuitous aid” has become a hostile for civil society step. This act has additionally worsened previous restrictions on NGO access to foreign funding – it has reduced the list of purposes, which foreign aid could be received for, as well as introduced a 0,5% fee of the amount of foreign aid for its registration, which is obligatory. Worsening of regulation of foreign aid means its “governmentalization” and transition from control over allocation of foreign funds to their direct reallocation to budgets of state organizations and loyal to the authorities and close to the government structures.
In May, obligatory reporting on measures against money laundering has been introduced for public associations and foundations, which is a disproportionate measure, incongruent with risk assessment.
Suspension of transactions on popular crowdfunding platforms MolaMola and Ulej has become a сrack-down on civil society. This platfoms have allowed non-governmental initiatives to get financial support of their activities from internal sources under unfavourable legal conditions, for addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
Over 1,5 months of the election campaign, there have been observed numerous searches, hundreds of arbitrary arrests of participants of pickets on collection of signatures and peaceful protest actions, members of initiative groups, journalists and human rights defenders. Participants of the system of independent election observation have also been purposely hit already starting from the beginning of the election campaign.
Criminal cases against individuals who run for president arouse resentment. Siarhei Tsikhanouski, a popular blogger, has been deprived of the opportunity to be nominated as a presidential candidate through arbitrary arrest. Suspicions of involvement in economic crimes Viktar Babaryka, a former bank manager, is charged with raise serious doubts and have shades of politically motivated revenge for the intention to run for president. The Assembly of NGOs has joined the joint statement of the human rights movement of Belarus and recognized Viktar Babaryka and imprisoned members of his team as political prisoners.
Altogether, the above-mentioned events of the first weeks of the election campaign are evidence of the fact that the authorities intend to hold elections against the backdrop of intimidation of the population and stranglehold over any display of out of control civil activity. Further repressions will roll back previous achievements in mending of internal dialogue between the authorities and civil society.
Taking into account the above-mentioned and basing on the principles of respect for human rights, the Working Group of the Assembly of NGOs:
- warns the authorities against imposition of new restrictions against civil society, also in the fields of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of access to information, especially in the Internet, as well as in the fields of freedom of association and NGO access to funds from both internal and foreign sources;
- expresses its outrage against escalation of repressions against civil and political activists, journalists, observers and other participants of the election process;
- calls on the authorities to immediately release all political prisoners, stop arbitrary arrests and use of violence against peaceful protesters, as well as misuse of criminal prosecution as means of struggle against political opponents.
The Working Group of the Assembly of NGOs appeals to the EU countries and the USA with the suggestion to make cooperation with the authorities of Belarus dependent on the attitude of the latter towards human rights and civil society, as well as demand that they do not use violence against NGOs, civil activists and political opponents as a condition for continuation of international technical cooperation with the government of Belarus.