Picks of the week
On April 23, police officers searched the apartment of Alena Masliukova, human rights defender and environmental activist in Svietlahorsk. The search is said to be part of an investigation opened after a local woman complained about a social media post authored by Masliukova.
As a result, the police took the activist’s laptop and smartphone.
According to Masliukova, the investigation may be linked to her role in opposing the work of a paper mill, which local activists say is a danger to the environment.
On April 23, the Čyhunačny District Court of Homieĺ fined Ihar Mazeika 405 rubles for sharing a critical documentary about President Lukashenka in his account in the VKontakte social network.
The video entitled “Lukashenka. Criminal Files” is linked to the Poland-based vlogger Nexta known for his criticism of the Belarusian authorities.
Mazeika was convicted of disseminating prohibited content, since the video was blacklisted as “extremist” in November 2019.
The man was earlier convicted of a similar offense after he posted a video entitled “Lukashenka comments on Hitler”. The court found the footage illegal since it featured a Nazi flag.
Leanid Sudalenka, local human rights activist who monitored the trial, says that the right to disseminate information is not absolute and may be subject to certain restrictions. However, Belarusian laws outlaw the very fact of sharing blacklisted content, regardless of its objective.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, including when information is shocking, insulting or disturbing. European standards call to prove the necessity and proportionality of its limitation. It is very simple to open the Code, pick an article and impose a fine. It is much more difficult to find and justify evidence to limit a specific human right,” the activist said.
Over the past month, more than 200 people across Belarus have faced charges for failing to self-isolate as an anti-COVID-19 measure, the Interior Ministry spokesperson said.
The offenders, however, are not sentenced to detention and the trials are conducted over Skype to minimize the spread of the virus.
Viasna is aware of a case when a retired woman was fined 810 rubles although she did not sign any commitments to stay home. The woman also claims she never left her apartment.
According to human rights activist, defendants in online trials have little time to prepare as most of them are notified one hour ahead of the hearing. Moreover, they are not allowed to access the case file electronically. These documents can only be accessed through a lawyer. Meanwhile, hiring a counsel is a challenge for an isolated person.
The activists are also alarmed by the heavy penalty imposed in the woman’s case (around 330 USD, which is roughly twice as much as an average pension in Belarus), when the only evidence of her guilt is testimony by a neighbor.