Belarus: Judicial harassment and reprisal in detention of Mr. Ales Bialiatski

Paris-Geneva, May 15, 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), has been informed about a new judicial decision issued against Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President and requests your urgent intervention.
New information:

According to the information received, the Minsk Pervomaisky District Court issued on March 29, 2012 a new decision against Mr. Ales Bialiatski, ordering him to pay an additional amount of 140,366,151 rubles (nearly 12,700 Euro) in penalty, in addition to the 757,526,717 Belarusian Rubles (approximately 70,000 Euros) which had already been paid in January 2012.

The case was initiated by the Tax Inspection of Minsk Pervomaisky District and brought by the Prosecution for “damages to the federal budget in the form of unpaid income tax”, on the pretext that the fine that Mr. Bialiatski was ordered to pay following his sentencing on November 24, 2011, and upheld in appeal on January 24, 2012, had not been indexed to the inflation, and had therefore to be up-scaled. The Court ruling of March 29 further states that the inflation index upscale corresponds to the period running from May 2008, when foreign funds were deposited on Mr. Bialiatski’s bank account, up to January 2012, when his wife, Ms. Natalia Pinchuk, transferred the amount of the fine on the Pervomaisky District Court’s bank account. The court decision was issued in the absence of the accused. While the ruling mentions that “the defendant did not show up at the hearing, is currently incarcerated and was notified about the date and time of the hearing”, neither Mr. Bialiatski’s colleagues, nor his relatives, were notified or even aware of this hearing. Regarding the merits of this new proceedings, the Belarusian Tax Code does not provide for any kind of indexing.

On April 30, 2012, members of “Viasna” filed a complaint before the Minsk Pervomaisky District Court to challenge the decision to index the amount of the fine on the inflation rate. It filed another complaint before the Cassation Court to challenge the “government surcharge penalty” which, according to Mr. Bialiatski lawyers, does not refer to any legal basis.

The Observatory is appalled by this new decision that is contrary to the law, and by the continued judicial harassment of Mr. Ales Bialiatski on blatantly biased grounds, and recalls that the latter has been arbitrarily detained since August 4, 2011 as a means to sanction his human rights activities (see background information).

The Observatory fears that this new decision only aims at depriving Mr. Bialiatski from the possibility to be covered by the amnesty law of July 3, 2012, and to benefit from other early release measures.

In addition, new unlawful restrictive measures have been imposed on Mr. Ales Bialiatski regarding his conditions of detention. In particular, his basic prison wages have been reduced to a fifth of what is ordinarily granted to other inmates to buy items at the prison stores. His right to receive and send letters has also been curtailed, as the prison authorities have failed to deliver a significant portion of his correspondence.

Background information:

Mr. Ales Bialiatski was arrested on August 4, 2011 by the police representative of the Department of Financial Investigations on charges of tax evasion under Article 243, part 2, of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (“concealment of profits on an especially large scale”), which provides for up to seven years’ imprisonment. On November 24, 2011, the Pervomaiski District Court of Minsk sentenced Ales Bialiatski to four and a half years of imprisonment under strict regime conditions, the confiscation of property, including the premises used for Viasna’s offices and a fine. In January 2012, the entire amount of the fine was transferred to the court’s bank account after local NGOs collected money in order to cover the fine and court expenditures, which amounted to a total of 757,526,717 Belarusian Rubles (approximately 70,000 Euros). On January 24, 2012, the Minsk City Court confirmed the sentence. On February 28, 2012, Mr. Ales Bialiatski was transferred to Babruisk Penal Colony No. 2, where, by court order, he must spend the next four years, less the seven months already spent in prison.

Actions requested :

Please write to the Belarusian authorities, urging them to :

i. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Ales Bialiatski since his detention is arbitrary as it seems to merely sanction his human rights activities;

ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Mr. Ales Bialiatski and quash the decisions regarding this additional fine as well as the previous one;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ales Bialiatski;

iv. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998 as well as international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Belarus.

Addresses:

· President Alexander Lukashenko, Fax : + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, Email: contact@president.gov.by

· Head of the Administration of the President of Belarus, Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich Makei, Fax: + 375 17 226-06-10

· General Prosecutor, Grigory Alekseevich Vasilevich, Fax: + 375 17 226 42 52

· Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Viktor Grigorevich Golovanov, Email kanc@minjust.by

· Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51. Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int

· Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Fax : + 32 2.340.02.87, Email : embbel@skynet.be

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

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