Viasna protests harassment of its activist in Mahilioŭ
Minsk - November 12, 2018
According to information received by the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, on November 8, a member of the organization, Ales Burakou, was summoned to the Kastryčnicki district police department of Mahilioŭ. Police officer Pavel Kot suggested that the activist provided explanations in connection with a probe the Interior Ministry opened against him on October 8 under Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code on suspicion of “involvement in the activities of an unregistered organization”, the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. Referring to his constitutional right, Ales Burakou refused to give any explanations.
In this regard, the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” notes that:
Decision number 1296/2004 by the UN Human Rights Committee of August 7, 2007 found the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus to dissolve the public association Human Rights Center “Viasna” in November 2003 to be a violation of the right to freedom of association, which Belarus undertook to ensure in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Government was offered to provide the founder of the organization with an effective remedy, including the re-registration of the HRC “Viasna” and compensation.
Contrary to the commitments taken by the country, the government not only failed to comply with the decision of the UN HRC, but also three times refused to register the newly created public associations of Viasna members in 2007-2009, which, in turn, was recognized by the UN HRC as violations of the founders’ right to freedom of association. Due to the government’s apparent reluctance to legitimize the organization, the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” announced the continuation of its activities without state registration.
Regarding the criminal responsibility for activities without registration, as established by Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian and international human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the unconstitutional character of this Article and its non-compliance with international standards of human rights. A corresponding evaluation of Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code was given by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe).
This is not the first attempt of the authorities to prosecute members of the HRC "Viasna" under Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code.
In February 2011, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus issued an official warning to the chairperson of the organization, Ales Bialiatski, citing the illegal nature of activities on behalf of the unregistered organization Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the possible criminal charges under Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code in the case of repeated violations. In August 2011, the General Prosecutor's Office ordered to add the website of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", www.spring96.org, to the list of restricted access due to the fact that activities on behalf of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", which has not passed state registration, are contrary to the law and entail liability under Art. 193 of the Criminal Code.
The opening of the probe under Art. 193.1 runs counter to the declared and widely announced process of decriminalization of activities on behalf of unregistered organizations. Calls for the abolition of Art. 193.1 and refraining from its replacement with administrative responsibility are contained in the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee, which were made following the examination of Belarus’s first report to the UN HRC in the last 20 years.
We regard the opening of the probe against a member of our organization Ales Burakou as another flagrant act of pressure on the organization linked to its active human rights work, as well as harassment of all members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
In this regard, we express our strong protest and call on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:
- immediately close the probe against Viasna activist Ales Burakou;
- take measures aimed at the abolition of the ban on the activities of unregistered organizations in Belarus, as well as to decriminalize such activities and reverse Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code;
- create appropriate conditions for the legitimate activities of human rights organizations and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in particular, in accordance with international obligations in the field of human rights voluntarily undertaken by the Republic of Belarus.