Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders calls to drop charges against Viasna activist Aliaksandr Burakou
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment of Mr. Aliaksandr (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 - HRC “Viasna”), and member of the FIDH-affiliated organisation HRC “Viasna”. Mr. Burakou was one of the very few independent observers who were accredited at the polling station election commissions ahead of the presidential election in Belarus scheduled for August 9, 2020.
According to the information received, on August 5, 2020 at 7 pm traffic policeman major Rubanov arrested Mr. Burakou on trumped-up allegations of counterfeit alcohol transportation. After the police major searched Mr. Burakou’s car and found no alcohol therein, he alleged that the car might be stolen. Therefore, the major took Mr. Burakou to the police station of the Leninsky Department of Internal Affairs of Mogilev (ROVD), supposedly to verify his vehicle's identification number.
When informed about the arrest of Mr. Burakou, fellow HRC “Viasna” activist Boris Bukhel came to the ROVD in support of the latter, and reported that the police officers organised a provocation against Mr. Burakou on the parking of the police station. Although he did not witness the scene as he was standing at a different main public entry to the police station, he heard a noise coming from the entrance to the parking, and a woman’s nagging. Then he heard Mr. Burakou loudly repeating several times that it was a provocation. After Mr. Bukhel rushed to the parking, both the woman and Mr. Burakou disappeared behind the gates of the police station, while two police officers in civilian clothes were staying outside.
Mr. Burakou spent the night at the police station and in the morning of August 6 he was placed at the ROVD temporary detention centre, and subsequently accused of “minor hooliganism” (Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Violations). He is now facing up to 15 days of administrative detention. Local human rights groups suspect that the case is connected with the above-mentioned provocation.
Mr. Burakou was one of the very few independent civil society representatives who was accredited as an observer for the upcoming presidential election. The arrest and the risk of a 15-day detention is likely to deprive Mr. Burakou of the opportunity to be present at the polling station on the day of the election, and seems to be only aimed at preventing him from exercising his legitimate human rights and election observation’s activities. The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment of Mr. Burakou and urges the authorities of Belarus to end any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and all human rights defenders in the country.
Mr. Burakou's detention occurred against the background of other cases of arrests, non-admissions and forceful removals of independent observers from polling stations.
In 2018, Mr. Burakou had already been harassed by the Belarus authorities in relation to his human rights activities. 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 HRC “Viasna”, putting pressure on him in an attempt to halt his human rights-related journalism. The investigation alleged that Mr. Burakou’s activities related to the HRC “Viasna” and therefore violated 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”.
Earlier 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.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus, urging them to:
- Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Ales Burakou, the HRC “Viasna”, as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;
- 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;
- Comply with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Articles 1, 2, 5 and 12.2;
- 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 Lukashenka, Belarus, fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, email: email@example.com ;
- General Prosecutor, Aliaksandr Konyuk, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 226 42 52, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
- Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 200 86 87, email: email@example.com ;
- Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Mr. Leonid Anfimov, Belarus, fax: +375 17 289 14 84, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
- Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51, email: email@example.com ;
- H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Fax: + 32 2.340.02.87, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, August 6, 2020
 On 22 July, the country’s central election commission set a five-person limit on the number of observers who can observe any given polling station. By the time the amendments were adopted, over 40,000 observers representing pro-government political parties and public associations were accredited as observers at the polling station election commissions. Thus, the majority of independent observers were deprived of the opportunity to be present at the polling stations. This lack of independent observation—a necessary condition for free and democratic elections—heightens the risk of fraud.
 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.”