THE OBSERVATORY: arbitrary closure of the NGO Platforma in Belarus

October 12, 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 received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the liquidation and closure of Platforma, a human rights organisation specialised in the protection of prisoners’ rights.

According to the information received, on October 9, 2012, the Minsk economic court decided to close down Platforma. The decision follows a claim of the Tax Office of Minsk’s Savestki district, that the organisation had allegedly failed to lodge the tax return on time, and to inform it about a change of address. However, it appears that those claims are groundless, as Platforma did indeed lodge the tax return on time, but the Tax Office of Minsk reportedly lost the document. Representatives of the organisation announced that they would appeal against the court decision.

It is to be noted that Platforma has been repeatedly harassed by the authorities over the past months. For instance, on June 26, 2012, the Minsk Prosecutor’s Office warned Mr. Andrei Bandarenka, Head of Platforma, that he was “discrediting the Republic of Belarus and its governmental bodies”. These warnings took place after Platforma urged the international Ice Hockey Federation not to hold the 2014 World Championship in Minsk as long as the country held political prisoners and used repression against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists. A few days earlier, on June 18, 2012, Platforma had published a report on human rights abuses in detention centres and correctional institutions in Belarus.

Before such accusations, in March 2012, Mr. Andrei Bandarenka’s name was registered on the travel ban list established by the Belarusian authorities. Mr. Bandarenka subsequently lodged a complaint against these foreign travel restrictions. The Minsk Tsentralny District Court only decided to dismiss the case on July 20, 2012, thus contravening to the Belarusian legislation, which requires that a decision be taken within a month in such cases. The Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Citizenship Department eventually acknowledged that there had been a technical mistake in the database regulating the travel ban list and removed Mr. Bandarenka from this list.

In addition, on July 19, 2012, Mr. Bandarenka was informed that his name had been registered in the framework of a special procedure allowing the Belarusian authorities to monitor his profile preventively, without opening any judicial case against him.

On July 26, 2012, the authorities finally warned Platforma that the organisation would be closed down for alleged failure to comply with tax requirements. The Tax Office of Minsk Savestki district filed a claim but the hearing, initially scheduled on September 6, 2012, was finally postponed to October 9, 2012.

The Observatory notes that Platforma was registered as a non-commercial organisation, and its liquidation raises fears that Platforma’s members would be convicted under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (criminal responsibility for participation in the activities of an unregistered association) if they were to continue carrying out their human rights activities.

The Observatory strongly condemns the court decision to close down Platforma, as it is arbitrary and seems to merely aim at sanctioning its legitimate human rights activities. It is all the more concerned as human rights defenders and organisations have been subjected to increasing pressure over the past months, in the electoral context.

Actions requested :

Please write to the Belarusian authorities, urging them to :

i. Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the administrative and judicial levels – against Mr. Andrei Bandarenka, Platforma itself and all its members, as well as against all other human rights defenders in Belarus;

ii. 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, especially:
- its Article 1, 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”,
- its Article 6 (b) and (c), which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others […] as provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms and [...] to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”.
- and its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration” ;

iii. 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.

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