PRESS RELEASE – THE OBSERVATORY
Paris-Geneva, February 21, 2012.
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), condemns the rejection of the appeal lodged by the Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna”, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, before the Minsk City Court.
On February 13, 2012, the Minsk City Court dismissed the second appeal lodged by Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, and upheld the verdict which had been issued against him by the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk on December 16, 2011, sentencing him to a fine of 53 million rubles (about 4,840 euros). A first ruling had been issued against him on October 19, 2011, requesting him to pay 4,75 millions Belarusian rubles (about 435 euros).
The whole case opposes him to the tax inspection of Minsk Partyzanski District, on the basis of Article 13.6 of the Administrative Code (“non-payment or incomplete payment of taxes”). The Tax Inspection alleges that Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich failed to declare sums of money that it considered as “personal incomes”. These sums, which were transferred on bank accounts in Lithuania by international organisations such as Amnesty International and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, have on the contrary always been used in the framework of the activities of the HRC “Viasna”.
The authorities of Belarus were able to open this case against Mr. Stefanovich following the transfer of some banking information by the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Dues and Taxes of Belarus, as was the case for the President of the HRC Viasna Ales Bialiatski, who is currently serving 4,5 years imprisonment. The fact that the information passed by the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice to the Belarusian authorities was incomplete (as stated in a letter from the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice dated of the end of August 2011) has not been taken into account.
The Observatory strongly denounces the confirmation of the verdict against Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich and the ongoing judicial harassment against him, which merely seem to aim at sanctioning his human rights activities and the activities of HRC Viasna, and deplores the continued violations of fair trial standards in that case.
The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the fiscal, administrative and judicial level – against Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich as well as against all human rights defenders in the country and to conform with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Belarusian Republic.