Stop harassment of human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights activities
Minsk – May 2, 2018
On May 2, 2018, it was reported that Tatsiana Mastykina, volunteer of the service for monitoring peaceful assemblies, co-run by the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, who on March 25 was arrested, along with six other observers, during monitoring of an unauthorized march in Yakub Kolas Square in Minsk, was summoned to the court of Pieršamajski district of Minsk. The summons says that on May 8 the court is expected to hear administrative charges against the activist.
On March 25, five observers of the HRC “Viasna” and BHC were charged with an administrative offense under part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events). Tatsiana Mastykina faced an additional charge under Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to lawful demands of police officers), after she lawfully refused to undergo forced fingerprinting.
All the observers were clearly marked, wearing blue jackets with the hashtag #ControlBY on their backs and badges with a photo, name and the name of the organization which sent them to monitor the public gathering, and did not participate in the mass event. Moreover, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee informed in advance the Minsk city executive committee that its observers were expected to observe the assembly in Minsk on March 25 and asked to facilitate the implementation of the observation.
The monitoring of mass events is carried out solely for the purpose of collecting and analyzing information about the possibilities of exercising the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus and international human rights standards.
In accordance with the Law “On Mass Events”, observers are not participants of mass events. The law provides that an essential condition for participation in public events is the presence of an objective — public debate and expression of one’s attitude to the actions (or inaction) of persons and organizations, events of social and political life, as well as addressing issues of concern (during the meeting) or drawing attention to any issues or public expression of socio-political sentiment or protest (during the street procession), etc. (Article 2 of the Law). Other persons may attend the events with a different purpose: police officers — for the protection of public order; emergency paramedics — for medical care; representatives of the media — to professionally cover the mass event, and others. A differing goal differentiates these persons from the participants of mass events. Representatives of public associations, which are present at public events in order to observe the assemblies, also fulfill a social function — documenting the progress of the mass event, ensuring the rights of its participants and others.
Once again we remind the Belarusian authorities that human rights work is a legitimate form of public activity and must be guaranteed by the state.
Of particular concern is the illegal use of physical force by police officers of the Saviecki district police department of Minsk against observer Tatsiana Mastykina in connection with her legitimate refusal to undergo fingerprinting procedures.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- put an end to harassment of human rights activists in connection with the exercise of their human rights activities;
- drop the administrative charges against Tatsiana Mastykina and other observers who were arrested on March 25;
- conduct a proper investigation into the use of physical force against Tatsiana Mastykina and bring the perpetrators to liability.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee