Observatory condemns judicial harassment against trade union leaders in Belarus
August 10, 2017
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 of the judicial harassment faced by several leaders of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Radio and Electronic Industry Workers (REP) and the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU). During the mass social protests that sparked in the Spring of 2017 to protest the Presidential Decree No. 3 (“On the Prevention of Social Parasitism”) which imposes a fee on the unemployed and partially employed, REP provided legal aid and strongly criticised the Decree in that it negatively impacted citizens’ economic and social rights. REP gathered over 45,000 signatures against Presidential Decree No. 3 and actively participated in the peaceful marches held in several major cities of Belarus.
On August 2, 2017, officers of the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus raided and confiscated, under warrant, computers and financial documents from REP’s headquarters and BITU’s central office as well as the homes of BITU Chairman Mr. Mikalai Zimin, BITU Secretary-Treasurer Ms. Sniazhana Hrynevich, the former editor of REP ‘s website Ms. Natallia Pichuzhkina, REP’s Chief Accountant Mr. Ihar Komlik and REP Chairman Mr. Henadz Fiadynich.
The latter two were arrested during the raid as suspects of tax evasion. Mr. Henadz Fiadynich was released the same day after an interrogation, while an investigation against him continues. At the time of publication of this appeal, Mr. Ihar Komlik remained in detention charged under Article 243, Part 2, of the Criminal Code for “Tax evasion on a large scale”. Both face up to seven years in prison with confiscation of property.
According to the official information provided by the State Control Committee of Belarus on its website, a criminal case was opened against Messrs. Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik on the ground that “the chairman and the chief accountant of the trade union opened accounts in foreign banks on behalf of the trade union with the purpose of personal enrichment and constantly received big transfers of funds”.
The Observatory recalls that Mr. Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, was charged under the same article in 2011 and was subsequently sentenced to four and a half years in prison for “tax evasion”. In 2013, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his detention was arbitrary adding that the “fund raising undertaken by Mr. Bialatski for the purposes of allowing the very existence of Viasna and continuation of its activities is in conformity with […] article 20, paragraph 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” , and concluded that “the criminal provisions as applied to Mr. Bialatski do not take account of the aforementioned standards” and that Belarus was therefore in breach of its international obligations” . The UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) subsequently confirmed the arbitrariness of Ales Bialiatski’s detention on the same grounds .
The Observatory would like to recall that Belarusian legislation unduly restricts the right to freedom of association. Indeed, authorities have been arbitrarily refusing to register civil society organisations, especially those critical of the Government. Furthermore, citizens involved in the activities of unregistered associations are liable to criminal prosecution. Moreover, registered organisations must register all foreign donations received with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Administration. The International Labour Organisation (ILO)  has previously called the Belarusian authorities to amend Presidential Decree No. 24 concerning the use of foreign gratuitous aid since it prohibits the use of foreign gratuitous aid for, among others, carrying out public meetings, rallies, street processions, demonstrations, pickets, strikes and the running of seminars and other forms of public events . The latter recommendation has never been brought into effect by Belarus.
The Observatory fears that REP and BITU leaders are being targeted in reprisal for their human rights activities and calls for the immediate release of Mr. Komlik, as well as ending all judicial harassment against REP and BITU leaders, in particular Messrs Komlik and Fiadynich, in so far as it appears to only aim at sanctioning their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
Please write to the authorities of Belarus, urging them to:
i. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Ihar Komlik;
ii. Drop all the charges brought against Messrs. Ihar Komlik and Henadz Fiadynich;
iii. Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Ihar Komlik and Henadz Fiadynich as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;
iv. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Ihar Komlik and Henadz Fiadynich ;
v. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to freedom of association, as established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular its Article 22, and Article 3 of ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No. 87;
vi. Comply with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Articles 1, 2, 5 and 12.2;
vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Belarus;
viii. Cease any acts of pressure against the independent trade union movement and abandon the unlawful interference in the trade unions’ activities.
 See UN WGAD Opinion, August 31, 2012: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/183/14/PDF/G1218314.pdf?OpenElement
 See CCPR Views CCPR/C/112/D/2165/2012, October 24, 2014: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/112/D/2165/2012&Lang=en
 ILO is a United Nations agency that brings together governments, employers and workers representatives, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.
 See International Labour Conference Observation (CEACR) - adopted 2014, published 104th ILC session (2015), Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) - Belarus, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:13100:0::NO::P13100_COMMENT_ID:3186994