The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
According to the information received, on August 14, 2011, the detention of Mr. Ales Bialiatski was extended to two months by decision of the Prosecutor, after Mr. Bialatski was officially charged under Article 243 part 2 of the Criminal Code (“concealment of profits on an especially large scale”) on August 12.
Mr. Bialatski remains detained at the detention centre #1 of the Interior Ministry, located in Valadarski street, and which is known for its harsh conditions of detention.
The Observatory calls for his immediate and unconditional release, as his arbitrary detention seems to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.
The Observatory recalls indeed that this criminal case against Mr. Bialatski was opened by the Belarusian authorities on the basis of information related to Mr. Bialatski’s bank account, registered at DnB NORDs bank in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Belarusian tax authorities interpreted the amount on the account of Mr. Bialatski’s as his personal income and accused him of concealing it.
In reality, this money, which was transferred by international organisations, was by no means used as personal funds but to finance the legitimate human rights activities of the HRC “Viasna”, such as assistance provided to victims of the political repression in the post-electoral context.
The Observatory recalls that Mr. Bialatski has always acted in accordance with international human rights standards and in particular with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others”:
“to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” (Article 1);
“to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups” and “to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations” (Article 5(b) and (c));
“to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Article 9.3(c));
“to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means” (Article 13).
However, in Belarus, the legitimate use of these funds is in reality made illegitimate by repressive laws aiming to silence civil society activities.
It is indeed only because Belarusian independent human rights organisations, including the HRC “Viasna”, are confronted with systematic refusals of registration, and because Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus criminalises activities “as part of an unregistered organisation”, that the funds dedicated to the human rights activities of the HRC “Viasna” had to be transferred on this Lithuanian bank account.
On August 4, 2011 Mr. Bialatski was arrested in the street by the police representative of the Department of Financial Investigations.
On the same day, a search was carried out in Mr. Bialatski’s house. Meanwhile, the police was waiting at the offices of the HRC “Viasna”, where Mr. Bialatski was to be brought just after the search of his home, for a search of the office.
On August 5, 2011, Mr. Bialatski was transferred to a cell within the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Committee, before being remanded in prison for ten days in the detention centre of the Interior Ministry.
The Observatory urges the authorities of Belarus to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ales Bialatski as well as of all human rights defenders in Belarus;
ii. Release Mr. Ales Bialatski immediately and unconditionally since his detention is arbitrary as it seems to merely sanction his human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against him, and more generally against all human rights defenders in the country;
iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with articles mentioned above;
v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.