Authorities ignore observers’ appeal against arrest at Freedom Day protest

2018 2018-05-07T13:45:12+0300 2018-05-07T13:45:23+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In early April, six observers of the monitoring mission co-run by the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee wrote to the Prosecutor's Office of the Saviecki district of Minsk and the city’s office of the Investigative Committee to complain about their illegal detention ahead of the Freedom Day demonstration on March 25 in Minsk.

Observers Nasta Loika, Ihar Bahachyk, Tatsiana Mastykina, Maksim Kavaliou, Andrus Krechka and Hanna Sakhankova were detained by plainclothes officers, despite badges and blue vests with the inscription #ControlBY, as well as official documents with information indicating the purposes and procedure of observation signed by the BHC, which was sent to the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs on March 20.

The arrests were coordinated by deputy head of the Minsk OMON (special police force) Aliaksei Tarasau, who led the detention of more than 50 observers at the office of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" on March 25, 2017.

Riot police chief Aliaksei Tarasau detaining observers on March 25, 2018. Photo: Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, Belsat
Riot police deputy chief Aliaksei Tarasau detaining observers on March 25, 2018. Photo: Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, Belsat

In their complaints, the observers pointed to a number of violations of their rights. For example, the detainees were kept for a long time facing the wall in the courtyard of the district police department, police officers did not identify themselves, they took the activists’ things, even crosses and earrings, did not give out a copy of the protocol of seizure of personal belongings, while detention reports were only issued five to six hours later, which mentioned different riot policemen. In addition, the right to defense was grossly violated: lawyers were not allowed to assists the monitors; moreover, police officers argued that the observers were never brought to the police station. In violation of the Law “On state fingerprinting registration" and without a court decision, Hanna Sakhankova and Tatsiana Mastykina, the latter with the use of physical violence, were fingerprinted, photographed and videotaped.

“We were offered to sign a document saying that we should appear in the court of the Saviecki district of Minsk on March 26. Otherwise, the charges could be heard without us. The following day, we went to the court, but our case files were not there, and no trials were held. Thus, we were illegally arrested and detained in the police department of the Saviecki district for six to eight hours without food, water, hygiene,” the observers said in their complaints.

As a result, the observers received replies to their complaints. In particular, the Prosecutor's Office forwarded the appeal to the chairman of the Saviecki District Court, who in turn dismissed it, arguing that the court did not receive any case files, and returned the complaint to the prosecutor.

The Investigative Committee said that the submitted statement and annexes, which included a letter from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, photos of the detention, a statement by Maja Kocijančič, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, a call by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership program of FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture, a statement by Front Line Defenders, as well as individual descriptions of the event, did not provide sufficient objective data that would testify to the presence of signs of any crime in the actions of the officials of the police department of the Saviecki district, including in connection with their official or professional activities.

At the same time, it was reported that on May 2, Tatsiana Mastykina was summoned to court to face administrative charges under Art. 23.34 and 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, which is scheduled for May 8. At the same time, the girl's defender was not allowed to view the case file so far, although she applied to the police department with a request.

Following the report, the HRC “Viasna” and the BHC issued a statement to condemn “harassment of human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights activities.”