Report on monitoring peaceful assembly on November 15 in Minsk Photo

2019 2019-11-16T12:37:00+0300 2020-01-22T12:47:16+0300 en https://spring96.org/files/images/sources/vstrecha_svobodnyh_ludzei_1.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On November 15, a protest entitled “The meeting of free people” took place in Kastryčnickaja Square and Svabody Square.

Activists demanding free elections in a protest in Minsk. November 2019
Activists demanding free elections in a protest in Minsk. November 15, 2019

Conclusions:

  1. The gathering was of a peaceful character (according to the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, the assembly is peaceful if “its organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent”). The participants did not articulate any calls for violence or war and did not use or provoke violence. The participants of the assembly did not disturb public order, contravene traffic regulations or pose a threat to public safety, having not violated the rights and freedoms of others.
  2. During the peaceful assembly, the identification of law enforcement officials was impossible, as they were dressed in plain clothes with no identification marks. The presence of police employees without uniform at peaceful gatherings does not allow the participants to understand and recognize the officials’ functions and powers, which disrupts communication and successful conflict management.
  3. No interruptions to the work of independent observers and mass media were registered, which appears to be a positive development.
  4. It is known from mass media sources that several activists faced repression in connection with their participation in a peaceful assembly on November 8 and planned participation in an assembly on November 15. Volha Nikalaichyk, a European Belarus activist and ex-candidate for the House of Representatives, was detained around 16.00, before the start of the assembly. Rights defenders are aware of the detention of other European Belarus activists: Maksim Viniarski, Andrei Sharenda, Nasta Huseva, Andrei Voinich, and Yauhen Afnahel were detained and released the same day without charges.
  5. The peaceful assembly was part of the candidate’s election campaign for the House of Representatives.

Monitoring methodology

The National Human Rights Public Association “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" systematically monitor peaceful assemblies in Belarus, using a developed monitoring methodology. It includes recruitment and training of observers (the recruited observers are taught principles of civilian control, international standards of peaceful assembly conduct and monitoring methodology); filling in monitoring questionnaires during observation; processing the questionnaires and writing monitoring reports. The questionnaires for peaceful assemblies monitoring are developed in cooperation with other human rights organizations and include such points as the possibility for the observers and mass media representatives to work without obstructions; the conduct of organizers, participants, and law enforcement officials; the presence of an ambulance and medical rescue teams.

Observers are only permitted to work if they agree with monitoring rules and principles, such as political independence and neutrality, providing factual information, non-interference, adherence to the principles of law, rejection of any form of violence or discriminatory practices, appropriate behavior. During their work, observers stand separately from participants of peaceful assemblies to the extent possible. They are marked with blue vests with an inscription #СontrolBY and have attestation certificates.

Preliminary information

During an assembly on November 8, 2019 in Svaboda Square in Minsk, E.A., a European Belarus campaign activist, called for another peaceful assembly in Kastryčnickaja Square at 18.00 on November 15 “in spite of any resistance of the government”. The information about the upcoming assembly, as well as calls for participation were spread widely in social media and mass media.

During the assembly, four observers were conducting civilian control directly and continuously. They had been trained and were properly marked. Before the assembly, a query about the observers’ presence at the peaceful assembly with a request for security and assistance provision during their observation was submitted to the Executive Committee of Minsk.

Course of the peaceful assembly

Two hours prior to the event, in Kastryčnickaja Square and nearby, there were 10 officials and 8 vehicles of State Automobile Inspection, 1 Emergency Situations Ministry vehicle, 1 vehicle of the Fire Department, 2 police employees in uniform, 7 minivans with curtained windows parked around the square and no less than 32 law enforcement officials without uniform or identification marks. The square was enclosed by concrete blocks and portable metal plates. In the middle of the square, the installation of the Christmas tree was carried out along with paving tile repairs in the presence of municipal and construction/repair machinery.

The observation began at 17.30 in Kastryčnickaja Square, then the observers followed assembly’s participants to the Town Hall building in Svaboda Square (18.20-18.38) and finished their observation at 19.50.

During the observation, the following was noted:

  1. At the start of the assembly at 18.00, municipal service workers began paving tile repairs using mechanical construction equipment, causing noise and making it hardly possible for the participants to give public speeches or communicate.
  2. The exact meeting point in Kastryčnickaja Square wasn’t announced by the organizers. Because of the enclosure of a large part of the square, people started to gather chaotically on two sides of the barriers. At 17.50, 20 people were present near the Trade Unions Palace. Before the start of the protest, no less than 80 participants were present. At 18.14, a uniformed police employee informed the participants about the necessity to disperse and stop the protest, reasoned by the fact that the event was illegal and its participants could be prosecuted. It was registered that bags of two people were inspected by the Special Purpose Police Unit officials.

  3. People had to stand on a narrow unenclosed part of a sidewalk close to the roadway. State Automobile Inspection officers in cars patrolled the roadway side and informed the participants with the help of loudspeakers that roadway trespassing is prohibited. Construction noises and the location of participants appears to have disrupted communication and obstructed the possibility for people to speak out. 
  4. Mikalai Statkevich had called for moving to Alena Talstaya’s campaigning picket spot in Svaboda Square. At 18.20, an unorganized crowd of at least 120 participants moved to the Town Hall building. SAI officers did not provide free movement of the participants at pedestrian crossings. At around 18.30, in Svaboda Square, Belarusian opposition politicians began to speak. At 18.40, no less than 120 participants were present at the gathering, at around 19.00 – no less than 200.

  5. During the assembly in Kastryčnickaja Square, there were no less than 50 law enforcement officials in plain clothing present (they could be recognized by the handheld transceivers and headphones, video recorders and handheld video cameras); 4 uniformed police employees, 7 SAI employees and 2 Special Purpose Police Unit officials. During the assembly in Svaboda Square: 2 uniformed police employees, no less than 50 law enforcement officials in plain clothing and 3 SAI employees. During the entire event, the law enforcement officials were observing, at least two of them filmed the event using portable video cameras. In the area around the place of the assembly, there were no less than 4 vehicles of law enforcement authorities. No ambulance vehicles were present.

  6. No less than 20 representatives of mass media were present at the peaceful assembly. They actively made contacts with participants, took interviews, conducted live broadcasts.
  7. Symbolics/insignia used: 2 “white-red-white” flags, 3 AGP (United Сivic Party of Belarus) flags, 4 red flags with “Pahonya” emblem, 4 European Union flags with an inscription “Belarus”. A poster “Freedom to the people” taped on the back of one of the participants. A pamphlet on corruption mechanisms.   
  8. Slogans used: “Glory to the nation! Death to the enemies!”, “Long live Belarus!”,”To the Kolkhoz mafia – BASTA!”, “Stop tolerating this! Stop!”, “It’s time to change the bald tire!”.

  9. Participants’ speeches were conducted in a free format, a European Belarus representative offered an opportunity for the interested to speak out with a microphone. One of the participants publicly made a statement towards one of the deputy candidates: “Haidukevich is a criminal”. On the site of Alena Talstaya’s picket, people also proceeded to speak up in a free manner. After the end of the assembly, Mikalai Statkevich proposed that the gathering would be continued the next day at 18.00 and the same place.
  10. Three participants of the assembly were present with their faces covered with scarfs. Their conduct caused no suspicion of having illegal action intentions and was of a peaceful character.
  11. The event ended at 19.13, the participants began to disperse peacefully.

Recommendations:

For the law enforcement representatives:

  • to provide public security in uniform and use individual identification marks (badges, lapel pins);
  • to designate a contact person out of law enforcement officers to provide communication with observers, mass media representatives, organizers and participants of a peaceful assembly;
  • to provide free unobstructed movement of the crowd at pedestrian crossings, organize the movement according to the inclusivity principles, if needed – dedicate a roadway strip for the movement of an assembly;
  • not to initiate administrative prosecution for participants of peaceful assemblies as it presents a limitation of the right to assemble peacefully provided under international commitments of the Republic of Belarus in the field of human rights;
  • not to detain organizers and participants before and after actions unjustified and at will.

For the subjects of legislative powers:

  • to initiate domestic legislation changes to bring it into compliance with the international standards in the field of freedom of assembly.

For the judicial authorities: 

  • not to conduct administrative prosecution for participants of peaceful assemblies as it is a limitation of the right to assemble peacefully provided under international commitments of the Republic of Belarus in the field of human rights.

For the executive authorities, Executive Committee of Minsk:

  • to support the implementation of freedom of peaceful assemblies in Belarus, including not setting up excessive administrative procedures, initiating communication with organizers, facilitating the organization of spaces suitable for peaceful assembly conduction, suspending repair and construction works on the peaceful assembly sites.

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