Belarus
03.08.12
Urgent Interventions

First year of imprisonment for Ales Bialiatski

PRESS RELEASE -THE OBSERVATORY

BELARUS: First year of imprisonment forAles Bialiatski, a sad illustration of the ongoing repression of the Belarusiancivil society

Paris-Geneva, August 3, 2012. On the eve of the one-year anniversary ofthe arrest of Mr. Ales Bialiatski, Presidentof the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a jointprogramme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT), remains extremely concerned about hisongoing arbitrary detention as well as about acts of harassment against him andagainst other human rights defenders in Belarus.

August 4 will mark a sad anniversary for Mr. Ales Bialiatski and for allhuman rights defenders in Belarus.

One year ago, Mr. Bialiatski was arrested by the police representativeof the Department of Financial Investigations and charged with “concealment ofprofits on an especially large scale” under Article 243, part 2, of theCriminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.

On November 24 of the same year, after almost four months of pre-trialdetention, the Minsk Pervomaiski District Court sentenced him to four and ahalf years of imprisonment under strict regime conditions, confiscation ofproperty, including the premises used for Viasna's offices, and a fine of757,526,717 Belarusian Rubles (approximately 70,000 Euros). On January 24,2012, the Minsk City Court confirmed the sentence on appeal, after all themotions filed by Mr. Bialiatski's lawyers were rejected. On February 28, 2012,Mr. Bialiatski was transferred to Babruisk Penal Colony No. 2, where, by courtorder, he has to serve his sentence.

On March 29, 2012, the same court issued a new decision, but neither Mr. Ales Bialiatski nor his colleagues or relatives hadbeen even notified of that hearing. Mr. Bialiatski was thusordered to pay an additional amount of 140,366,151 rubles (nearly 12,700 Euro)in penalty, in addition to the previous fine that had already been paid inJanuary 2012. The court justified this sentence on the pretext that the finethat Mr. Bialiatski was ordered to pay following his sentencing had not beenindexed to the inflation, and had therefore to be up-scaled, although theBelarusian Tax Code does not provide for any kind of indexing.

In addition, several arbitrary restrictive and discriminatory measureshave been imposed on Mr. Ales Bialiatski in the framework of his detention onthe grounds that he refused to admit having committed a crime,, did not belongto “amateur talent groups”[1]and because a “measure of reprimand” was reportedly issued against him.Therefore, his basic prison wages have been reduced to a fifth of what isordinarily granted to other inmates to buy items at the prison stores. Hisright to receive and send letters has also been curtailed, as the prisonauthorities have failed to deliver a significant portion of his correspondence.Moreover, in June 2012, Mr. Bialiatski's meetings with his wife were reducedfrom three days to one, and the amount of food parcels is also limited.

By depicting him as an offender, the prison administration clearly aimedat depriving him from the possibility to fall into the scope of the amnesty lawof July 3, 2012, and to benefit from other early release measures.

The Observatory is gravely concerned about the ongoing harassmentagainst Mr. Ales Bialiatski, as well as about his unacceptable conditions ofdetention, which seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.The Observatory is also alarmed by the fact that a recent court decision wasreportedly issued at the beginning of July 2012 by the Partizanski Court ofMinsk City which confirmed the seizure of the offices of the HRC “Viasna”.

The Observatory recalls more generally that other Belarusian humanrights defenders have also been harassed and arrested over the past months. Oneof them, Mr. Aleh Volchek, Head of the organisation “Legal Aid to thePopulation”, was arrested and sentenced to administrative detention twice overthe past 8 months. He was first sentenced to four days' administrativedetention in January, 2012, undercharges of “petty hooliganism” - a sanction that did not occur long after hehad published a reportabout Mr. Ales Bialiatski's trial. On May 24, 2012, Mr. Volchek was arrestedagain and sentenced to nine days' administrative imprisonment by the MinskTsentralniy District Court, under Article 17.1 of the Code of AdministrativeOffences (“swearing against the police”). His arrest and detention could berelated to an article published on the Charter 97 website on May 21, in whichhe denounced the beatings carried out by the police against youngdemonstrators, whom they labelled as ”criminals”.

Anotherexample of that unrelenting harassment of human rights defenders by Belarusianauthorities is that a number of human rights defenders, among whom Mr. ValentinStefanovich, Vice-President of “Viasna”, and Mr. Oleg Hulak, President ofthe Belarussian Helsinki Committee, were registered in the authorities' database of those subjected toforeign travel restrictions, on an unjustified ground. During four months ofprocedures, the judge continuously postponed the hearings, while Article 337.1 of the Code of CivilProcedure requires the court to consider civil cases within one month followingthe submission of a lawsuit. It is only in July 2012 that the InteriorMinistry's Immigration and Citizenship Department finally acknowledged its“mistake”, and eventually removed their names from the travel ban list, howeverrefusing to follow up on the complaints concerning the procedural violations.

Forthe past year, the situation in Belarus continued to go from bad to worse”,says Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “All human rights principles arechallenged today in Belarus”. “The ongoing arbitrary detention of AlesBialiatski is one of the sad illustrations of the constant harassment faced bythe civil society in the country”.

“All influential actors have to take up their responsibility to prevent theshocking human rights situation in Belarus - a European country - frombecoming the normalcy. And it is about time that the UN Human Rights Counci,las the main international human rights body, assumes its responsibility andexamines the violations of human rights by the Belarus authorities”, saidGerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

The Observatory firmly denounces the ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr.Bialiatski and calls upon the Belarusian authorities to immediately andunconditionally release him, guarantee in all circumstances his physical andpsychological integrity, and put an end to any kind of harassment – includingat the judicial level – against all human rights defenders, in line with theUnited Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declarationof Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.

For more information on thiscase, please see: http://freeales.fidh.net/ as well as the previous Urgent Interventionsissued by the Observatory.

For more information,please contact:

· FIDH: Arthur Manet: + 331 43 55 25 18

· OMCT: Isabelle Scherer: + 41 22 809 49 39

[1] Referring to "social and cultural activities" within theprison.

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