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Belarus
16.06.21
Urgent Interventions

Belarus: Obstacles to the freedom of association of 'Zvyano'

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

BLR 006 / 0621 / OBS 069
Harassment /
Obstacle to freedom of association
Belarus
June 16, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the acts of harassment and obstacles to the freedom association of ‘Zvyano’ (“Chain” in English), a public association officially registered in Belarus since 2013 that is involved in human rights education and promotes the participation of citizens in public and political life, as well as responsible and healthy lifestyles.

On June 9, 2021, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus sent a written warning to ‘Zvyano’ indicating that the organisation had violated the legislation of the Republic of Belarus. Particularly, the letter states that the monitoring of the healthcare system carried out by ‘Zvyano’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and the recommendations the organisation sent to the Ministry of Health violate Presidential Decree No. 510/2009, which stipulates, among other things, that only the Ministry of Health can control the healthcare system.

The letter further states that one of the objectives of ‘Zvyano’ listed in its website does not comply with the statutes of the organisation registered before the Ministry of Justice[1]. Additionally, the letter claims ‘Zvyano’ failed to provide the information requested by the Ministry of Justice on May 19, 2021, with a deadline on May 29, 2021. However, according to ‘Zvyano’, they never received this request. Finally, the Ministry of Justice requires ‘Zvyano’ to address the alleged violations, to prevent them in the future and to inform the ministry by June 18, 2021 about the measures taken by the organisation. ‘Zvyano’ will appeal the warning.

The Observatory expresses great concern over these acts of harassment against ‘Zvyano’, which seem to be only aimed at restricting its right to freedom of association, and underlines that according to the Law on Non-Government Organisations, a second warning during the same calendar year may result in the liquidation of the non-governmental organisation.

The Observatory recalls that on April 5, 2021, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya and four other fmembers of ‘Zvyano’, were arbitrarily detained in Minsk following their organisation of the “Machine breathes but I don’t” exhibition, which shed light on the struggles of the medical personnel amid the Covid-19 crisis and the politicisation of healthcare in Belarus. They were accused of “disobedience to lawful order or requirement of the public official” (Article 24.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences) and sentenced to 7 days of detention. Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya was released on April 15, 2021, and the other members of ‘Zvyano’ between April 8 and 12, 2021. Additionally, Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya remains a suspect within a criminal case under charges of “organisation of mass riots” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code).

The Observatory further recalls that on the same day, on April 5, 2021, law enforcement officers searched the appartments of the above-mentioned human rights defenders as well as the office of ‘Zvyano’ in Minsk, and confiscated its technical equipment, money and documents. At the time of publication of this urgent appeal, the seized material is still at the State Investigative Committee of Belarus.

The Observatory strongly condemns the obstacles to the freedom of association of ‘Zvyano’ and urges the Belarusian authorities to put an immediate end to any acts of harassment -including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders, local human rights organisations, and public associations in Belarus.

The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Belarus in the context of the ongoing crackdown on civil society and dissenting voices, including ‘Viasna’ members Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasitsa, Andrey Chapuyk and Marfa Rabkova, as well as the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Aleh Hrableuski and Siarhei Drazdouski, who remains under home arrest.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level – against ‘Zvyano’, as well as against all human rights organisations and defenders, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of association in the country, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

iii. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Belarus, including Leanid Sudalenka, Tatsiana Lasista, Andrey Chapuyk, Marfa Rabkova Aleh Hrableuski and Siarhei Drazdouski, as their detention is arbitrary and seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by;
  • Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by;
  • Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: sk@sk.gov.by;
  • Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by;
  • Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by;
  • Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: pismo_mvd@mia.by;
  • Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int;
  • H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, June 16, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT and are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18

[1] As per the statutes of the organisation, the objective is to “promote in society the ideas of humane, moral, tolerant, anti-discriminatory, open and responsible relationships”. In ‘Zvyano’s’ website, there is a difference in the order of the sentence describing this goal, and this is the argument used by authorities to state I does not comply with the organisation’s charter: “promote the ideas of humane, moral, tolerant, anti-discriminatory, open and responsible relationships in society”.

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