Urgent Interventions

Continued harassment of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”

BLR 005 / 1213 / OBS 097

Internet censorship /Harassment


December 20, 2013

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme ofthe International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the followingsituation in Belarus.

Description of the situation:

TheObservatory has been informed of the continued harassment of the BelarusianHuman Rights Centre “Viasna”.

Accordingto the information received, on December 16, 2013, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich,Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was informed by theProsecutor General’s Office of Belarus, that Viasna's website had been introducedinto the list of resources with restricted access by decision of the same inAugust 2011 on the grounds that “actions on behalf of the human rightsorganisation 'Viasna', that has not passed the established procedures of stateregistration, are contrary to the legislation of the Republic of Belarus”.The decision was based on Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, which prohibitsorganising or participating in the activities of unregistered organisations.

Accordingto the information received, other websites on the list include those dealingwith pornography, promoting extremist activities or violating copyrights, andfive opposition or critical minded websites. Those sites have the accessblocked from the State, education and cultural institutions.

UntilDecember 16, 2013, authorities had refused to disclose to Viasna the maker orthe basis of the decision to restrict public access to its website. Viasna hadcontacted the Operative Analytical Centre (an agency under the authority of thePresident of the Republic of Belarus), the Republican Unitary Enterprise forOversight of Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Communications andInformation. Each body had either declined to give any information, referredViasna elsewhere or advised it to contact all other agencies with the authorityto restrict access to a website. It was not until Viasna had contacted all theagencies empowered to issue such a decision that it received a response fromthe office of the Prosecutor General, disclosing that they had made thedecision and their above reason for doing so.

TheObservatory recalls that in August 2007 the United Nations Human RightsCommittee declared that the November 2003 decision of the Supreme Court of theRepublic of Belarus to dissolve Viasna is a violation of the right to freedomof association and called on authorities in Belarus to re-register andcompensate Viasna in accordance with their obligations under the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Government of Belarus is yet tocomply with the recommendation. Furthermore, it has refused several requests byViasna and many other organisations to be registered.

TheObservatory also notes that Article 5 of the Constitution of the Republic ofBelarus provides for grounds for the restriction of the activities ofassociations - aiming to change the constitutional order or advocating war,social, national, religious and racial hatred. Unarguably, the activities ofViasna do not fall into any of these categories.

The Observatoryexpresses its concern about the decision of the Government of Belarus to censorViasna's website, and considers it a means to curtail its human rightsactivities. Furthermore, the mention of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code inthe General Prosecutor's answer to their request amounts to a form ofintimidation against Viasna, which has been continuing its legitimate andpeaceful activities despite a constant pressure. The Observatory has repeatedlyqualified Article 193.1, which penalises acting on behalf of an unregisteredorganisation, as a provision violating both the Constitution and internationalhuman rights law. The Council of Europe Venice Commission concluded in October2011 that Article 193.1 of Belarus’ Criminal Code, violates the provisions ofinternational law. According to the Venice Commission, freedoms of associationand expression are of vital importance in any democratic country, and anyrestrictions on them should be well justified.

Actions requested:

Pleasewrite to the Belarusian authorities, urging them to:

i. Put an end to anycensorship - including print, audio, televisual and online - of Viasna'scommunication materials, as well as of all other human rights defenders inBelarus;

ii. Remove all restrictions on Viasna's websiteimmediately and unconditionally since this restriction is arbitrary as it onlyaims at curtailing Viasna's human rights activities by reducing its onlinepresence and discrediting its existence and work by grouping it together withpublishers of pornography and extremists;

iii. Repeal Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of theRepublic of Belarus;

iv. Put an end to any kind of harassment -including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in Belarus andensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their work withoutunjustified hindrances;

v. More generally, conformwith the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted bythe General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone hasthe right, individually and in association with others, to promote and tostrive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamentalfreedoms at the national and international levels”,

- its Article 6 (b) and (c), which states that“Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others […] asprovided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments,freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information andknowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms and [...] to study,discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice,of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and otherappropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”.

- and its Article 12.2, which provides that “theState shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by thecompetent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others,against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adversediscrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of hisor her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi. Conform with the International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights and the First Protocol thereto, both of which havebeen ratified by Belarus; especially Article 22: “Everyone shall have the rightto freedom of association with others, including the right to form and jointrade unions for the protection of his interests.”

vii. Ensure in allcircumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordancewith international human rights standards and international instruments ratifiedby the Belarusian Republic.


• President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, vul. Karla Marksa, 38, 220016 Minsk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, Email:
• General Prosecutor, Alexander Konyuk, vul. Internatsyjanalnaya. 22, 220050 Minsk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 17 226 42 52
• Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, vul. Kalektarnaya, 10, 220004 Minsk, Belarus, Email:
• President of the Supreme Court of Belarus, Mr. Valiantsin Alehavich Sukala, vul. Lenina, 28, 220030 Minsk, Belarus, Email:
• H.E. Mr. Mikhail Khvostov, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, 15 avenue de la paix, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51. Email:
• Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, 192 avenue Molière, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2.340.02.87, Email :

Please also write to thediplomatic mission or embassy of Belarus in your respective country.


Paris-Geneva, December 20,2013

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

Tocontact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail:
  • Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
  • Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29