URGENT APPEAL – THE OBSERVATORY
September 23, 2013
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), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory was informed of the confiscation of 40 copies of a book titled Enlightened by Belarusianness (“Asvechanyia Belaruschunai”), written by Mr. Ales Bialiatski, President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) Viasna and FIDH Vice-President, who is serving 4,5 years’ imprisonment in relation to his human rights activities, after they were considered as potentially damaging the image of the country. The 455-pages book is a digest of literary articles and essays on Belarusian literature, and also features four texts written by Mr. Bialiatski behind bars.
According to the information received, on September 5, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka, a member of the HRC Viasna, received the conclusions of an expert examination ordered by the Ashmiany Customs Department, which alleged that Mr. Ales Bialiatskis book could damage the image of the Republic of Belarus. On September 13, 2013, Ms. Reviaka filed a complaint to the Chairman of the State Customs Committee, urging him to conclude on the illegality of both the order for the appointment of the examination and of its conduct.
On July 3, 2013, 40 copies of the book had been confiscated from Ms. Reviaka at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. On July 5, 2013, a notice was sent to Ms. Reviaka informing her that an examination would be carried out by the head of the chief department for ideological work, youth and culture of the Hrodna regional executive committee. On July 15, Ms. Reviaka sent a petition to request a copy of the examination order, as well as information about the qualifications of the expert, including his or her level of education, degree, professional experience and previous experience of conducting similar examinations, invoking Article 138 of the Customs Code of the Customs Union, according to which a customs examination shall be appointed by the customs authorities and carried out by customs experts as well as experts from other authorised organisations, while the expert may be a person who possesses the necessary expertise to give expert opinion.
In his response to the request, dated July 22, 2013, the Acting Director of the Ashmiany Customs Department Mr. Siarhei Samushchau alleged that the Ashmiany customs did not know who would conduct the examination, while the decision on the appointment of the examination had mentioned the name of P.K. Skarabko. Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka therefore sent another petition to reiterate her previous demands about the qualifications of Mr. P.K. Skarabko. This was followed by another vague answer which completely ignored her request.
On August 14, 2013, Ms. Reviaka expressed concerns to the State Customs Committee that 33 days after the appointment of the examination (i.e. from July 5 to August 7, 2013), the head of the Ashmiany Customs Department was still unaware of the expert’s name, although Part. 2 of Article 139 of the Customs Code provides that the period of an examination may not exceed 20 working days from the date of submission of the expert materials, and that such materials should be passed to the expert during the same working day.
However, on September 9, 2013, the State Customs Committee replied that the examination had started on July 24, 2013 and had in reality been completed on July 30, 2013.
The Observatory expresses its concern about the confiscation of the copies of Mr. Bialiatski’s book on biased grounds and about the series of procedural irregularities that ensued, and considers it as a means to further sanction his human rights activities.