Paris-Geneva, March 16, 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), deplores the series of travel bans imposed on a number of human rights defenders by the Belarusian authorities, amid the worsening of EU-Belarus diplomatic relations.
On March 11, 2012, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, Vice Chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, was banned from leaving the country by customs officers at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border point “Kamenny Loh”. No explanation was given to him regarding the reasons of this denial.
On March 13, 2012, a “travel ban” was notified to Mr. Aleh Hulak, member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC). The travel ban was allegedly issued on March 5, 2012 by the Migration and Citizenship Department of the Frunzenski District of Minsk, reportedly upon request of the Ministry of Justice, because of a civil suit that would have been filed against Mr. Aleh Hulak. However, when Mr. Hulak asked the Ministry of Justice for further information about this so-called lawsuit, he was told that in reality no judicial case was opened against him.
Then on March 14, 2012 in the morning, Mr. Andrey Dynko, Editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper “Nasha Niva”, which regularly reports on human rights violations, was informed that he was on the list of citizens banned from leaving Belarus, and was forced to get off the “Minsk-Vilnius” train. The border guards ordered him to return to Minsk without providing any reasons, and told him to contact the Department of Citizenship and Migration of his place of residence for further information.
On March 15, 2012, Ms. Zhanna Litvina, Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), was informed that she was also temporarily banned to travel as she was going through passport control at Minsk airport, on her way to Warsaw. Her passport was reportedly stamped ‘exit temporarily limited’.
On the same day, the Chairman of the Legal Commission of the BHC, Mr. Harry Pahanyayla, consulted the Department of Citizenship and Migration of the Department of Internal Affairs to find out whether he was allowed to go abroad, as he was planning to. After he insisted, he was told that he had indeed been banned from leaving the country on March 5, 2012, at the request of the Ministry of Justice, on the basis of a case that would have been opened against him for being in debt. However, the Ministry of Justice subsequently stated that Mr. Harry Pahanyayla was not in its lists of persons whose travelling abroad had been restricted, and no explanation about the above-mentioned debt case was provided to him.
Several other individuals have further been impeded from exiting the country since early March, including a number of opposition figures.
At the beginning of March 2012, the Belarusian authorities were therefore reportedly considering to establish a list of 108 human rights and opposition activists, with the aim of banning them from leaving the country.
This harsh reaction by the Belarusian authorities appears to be a direct act of retaliation following the extension by the European Union (EU) of the list of Belarusian officials falling under visa restrictions and freezing of assets in the EU. In February 2012, the EU foreign ministers indeed blacklisted an additional number of 21 Belarusian officials, bringing the blacklist total to more than 200 individuals.
The Observatory denounces this series of travel bans against human rights defenders and recalls that Article 12.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Belarus is a party since November 12, 1973, provides that “everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own”. The Observatory deplores that by banning human rights defenders from travelling, the Belarusian authorities are preventing them from carrying their human rights activities, and are therefore violating further the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.