The Observatory’s Urgent Appeal: Harassment of Mr. Ales Bialiatski

URGENT APPEAL – THE OBSERVATORY

 New information
BLR 007 / 0811 / OBS 104.7
Harassment
Reprisals in detention
Belarus
June 19, 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 measures of reprimand and extra duty issued against Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President and requests your urgent intervention.
 
New information:
 
On June 15, 2012, the Observatory was informed of the existence of measures of reprimand and extra duty recently issued by the penitentiary administration against Mr. Ales Bialiatski. Such measures were communicated to HRC “Viasna” Vice Chairman Valiantsin Stefanovich in a letter written by Mr. Bialiatski, in which he stated the following:
 
“I already had a reprimand and an extra duty. I feel they won’t be the last. In general, it turned out I am far from being a good inmate.”
 
The prison staff is reportedly blaming Mr. Bialiatski because he refuses to recognise his guilt, does not belong to “amateur talent groups”[1], and, most recently, because a measure of reprimand was issued against him.
 
Mr. Bialiatski’s meetings with his wife have also been reduced from three days to one, and he is now only allowed to receive half amount of food parcels.
 
The Observatory fears that these new measures against Mr. Bialiatski only aim at depicting him as an offender, with the aim of depriving him from the possibility of benefitting from the amnesty law scheduled for July 3, 2012, and from other early release measures.
 
The Observatory is also worried that the right of Mr. Bialiatski to receive and send letters remains curtailed, as the prison authorities still fail 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. On March 29, 2012, the Minsk Pervomaisky District Court issued 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, on the pretext that the fine that he 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, as he is currently incarcerated and neither notified nor even aware of this hearing. Regarding the merits of this new proceeding, 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.
 
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.
 
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 and administrative levels – against Mr. Ales Bialiatski and quash the measures of reprimand and extra duty as well as the previous judicial decisions;
 
iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ales Bialiatski;
 
iv. Conform with 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.

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