Goodbye, Article 193-1!
The National Legal Internet Portal has published a draft bill on amendments to the Criminal Code, which was prepared by the Council of Ministers. According to the draft, it is planned to repeal Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code, which provides for criminal responsibility for activity on behalf of unregistered organizations.
Article 193-1 was introduced in 2005. It provides for a fine or imprisonment of up to two years.
The issue of abandoning the infamous article has been discussed for a long time. The move was requested by both international and national human rights organizations. In particular, back in 2015 representatives of the country’s human rights organizations released an open appeal to the government, citing commitment to the development of the Belarus-EU relations and the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. The appeal called to abolish Article 193.1 and to lift the ban on the activity on behalf of unregistered organizations.
On April 30, after the submission of Belarus’s official report to the Committee against Torture the Belarusian delegation were asked a series of questions. In response, Dzmitry Shyryn, head of the National Security Legislation and Law Enforcement of the National Center of Legislative Activities, assured the Committee that the complete decriminalization of illegal NGO membership was soon to be expected.
One of the first activists who suffered for activity on behalf of unregistered organization were members of an unregistered public association “Partnership”, Tsimafei Dranchuk, Mikalai Astreika, Andrei Shalaika and Enira Branitskaya. In August 2006, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment under Article 193.1. In fact, the activists were punished for observing the presidential election earlier the same year.
Later, the same charges were used to prosecute activists of the Young Front youth opposition group. In 2006, Eduard Zeliankou was fined, and Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code.
On February 16, 2011 Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski received an official warning from Deputy Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus. The warning said that Bialiatski’s actions on behalf of Viasna, which was deprived of registration back in 2003, were contrary to the laws of the Republic of Belarus. The human rights activist was officially warned that he might face criminal charges in case he continued his work for the HRC “Viasna”.
If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President of Belarus, the Criminal Code will no longer have Article 193.1. However, responsibility for such activities will remain in the administrative legislation, which provides for penalties of up to 1,225 rubles, which, in the opinion of human rights activists, is unacceptable restriction on freedom of association.