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FIDH President addresses Lithuanian Prime Minister on Bialiatski's case

2011 2011-08-12T16:40:22+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Open Letter to Mr. Andrius Kubilius
Prime Minister of Lithuania
Paris-Geneva, August 11, 2011
Re: Arbitrary detention of Mr. Ales Bialatski, President of the Human Rights Centre "Viasna" and FIDH Vice-President, following the transfer of Lithuanian bank account details by the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice
Your Excellency,
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International  Federation  for  Human  Rights  (FIDH)  and  the  World  Organisation  Against Torture  (OMCT),  condemns  the  ongoing  arbitrary  detention  of  Mr.  Ales  Bialatski,  FIDH Vice-President and President of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre "Viasna".
Mr.  Ales  Bialatski  was  arrested  on  August  4,  2011  by  the  police  representative  of  the Department of Financial Investigations. On the same day, a search was carried out in his house. On August 5, 2011, Mr. Bialatski was remanded in prison for ten days in the detention centre of the Interior Ministry, which is known for its harsh conditions of detention and where he remained detained as of August 10, 2011.
This detention is related to a criminal case opened against Mr. Bialatski for supposed "tax evasion  under  Article  243,  part  2,  of  the  Criminal  Code  of  the  Republic  of  Belarus (“concealment of profits on an especially large scale”), which provides for up to seven years' imprisonment with confiscation of property.
As  you  know,  the  Belarusian  authorities  were  able  to  open  this  case  on  the  basis  of information related to Mr. Bialatski's bank account, registered at DnB NORDs bank in Vilnius, Lithuania.  The  Belarusian  tax  authorities  interpreted  the  amount  on  the  account  of  Mr. Bialatski's as his personal income and accused him of concealing it.  
In reality, this money, which was transferred by international organisations, was by no means used  as  personal  funds  but  to  finance  the  legitimate  human  rights  activities  of  the  HRC "Viasna",  such  as  assistance  provided  to  victims  of  the  political  repression  in  the  post-electoral  context.  It  is  indeed  only  because  Belarusian  independent  human  rights organisations,  including  the  HRC  "Viasna",  are  confronted  with  systematic  refusals  of registration, and because Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus criminalises activities “as  part  of  an  unregistered  organisations”,  that  the  funds  dedicated  to  the  human  rights activities of the HRC "Viasna" had to be transferred on this Lithuanian bank account.
In Belarus, the legitimate use of these funds is in reality made illegitimate by repressive laws aiming to silence civil society activities. The information disclosed by the Lithuanian Ministry of  Justice  to  the  Belarusian  authorities  could  therefore  lead  to  further  judicial  harassment against Mr. Bialatski.
The  Observatory  deplores  the  fact  that  this  case  could  be  brought  against  FIDH  Vice-President and HRC "Viasna" President on the basis of information that was provided by the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice to the Belarusian authorities.

We are appalled by the fact that the Ministry of Justice of Lithuania, a member-State of the European  Union  (EU),  did  not  consider  the  safety  of  Mr.  Bialiatski  before  facilitating  the transfer of information of his Lithuanian bank account to the authorities of Belarus.
While taking note of the recent announcement by your Ministry of Justice of the suspension of  its  legal  assistance  to  Belarus  in  this  case,  the  Observatory  strongly  regrets  that  by transferring  this  data,  Lithuania  directly  put  a  Belarusian  human  rights defender  at  risk,  in breach of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which provide on the contrary that the  aim  of  the  EU  and  its  member-States  is  -  inter  alia  -  to  "effectively  work  towards  the promotion and protection of human rights defenders in third countries".
Considering the responsibility of the Republic of Lithuania in these tragic developments, the Observatory:
-  is asking you which steps and demarches have been taken by your Government to contribute  to  the  unconditional  release  of  Mr.  Bialatski,  whose  arbitrary  detention manifestly aims at sanctioning his human rights activities;
-  is calling on you to urgently put in place safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future, and to ensure the safety of human rights defenders both in Lithuania and in third countries.
The  Observatory  recalls  that  Mr.  Bialatski  has  always  acted  in  accordance  with  the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General  Assembly  on  December  9,  1998,  which  state  that  "everyone  has  the  right, individually and in association with others":  
-  "to  promote  and  to  strive  for  the  protection  and  realization  of  human  rights  and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels" (Article 1);  
-  "to  form,  join  and  participate  in  non-governmental  organizations,  associations  or groups"  and  "to  communicate  with  non-governmental  or  intergovernmental organizations" (Article 5(b) and (c));
-  "to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and  assistance  in  defending  human  rights  and  fundamental  freedoms"  (Article 9.3(c));
-  "to  solicit,  receive  and  utilize  resources  for  the  express  purpose  of  promoting  and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means" (Article 13).
We  express  our  sincere  hope  that  you  will  take  these  considerations  and  requests  into account and we thank you in advance.
Yours sincerely,
Souhayr Belhassen     Eric Sottas   
FIDH President           OMCT Secretary General

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