Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich received a reply to his appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus, which concerned the introduction of the website spring96.org in the list of resources with restricted access.
The reply argues that Viasna’s website was blacklisted by a decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office in August 2011 on the grounds that “actions on behalf of the human rights organization “Viasna”, that has not passed the established procedures of state registration, are contrary to the legislation of the Republic of Belarus.” The Prosecutor General’s Office also stresses that organizing or participating in the activities of organizations that have not passed in the prescribed manner the state registration procedure is punishable by criminal liability under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code.
In this regard, the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” notes the following:
Article 5 of the Constitution provides for a comprehensive list of restrictions on the activities of public associations in the Republic of Belarus, which prohibits the establishment and operation of public associations, aimed at changing the constitutional order or advocating war, social, national, religious and racial hatred.
According to Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
According to Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, “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.”
In its activities, the Human Rights Center “Viasna” has been always guided by the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, as well as the above-mentioned international standards of human rights, ratified by the Republic of Belarus.
It should be noted that the UN Human Rights Committee’s Communication No. 1296/2004 of August 7, 2007 recognized the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus to dissolve the Human Rights Center “Viasna” in November 2003 a violation of the right to freedom of association, which Belarus should ensure in accordance with its obligations under the ICCPR. The government was recommended to provide the founding members of the organization with appropriate remedy, including the re-registration of the HRC “Viasna” and compensation.
By ratifying the ICCPR and the First Optional Protocol thereto, Belarus committed to not only not to interfere or impede the lawful activities of human rights defenders, but also to positive obligations to create appropriate conditions for such activities. This was also noted in the decision of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council adopted at its sixty-fourth session on August 27-31, 2012.
Contrary to its commitments, the government not only failed to comply with UN Human Rights Committee’s decision, but three times refused to register the newly created NGOs. As a result, facing the apparent reluctance of the legitimization of the organization, members of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, including its chairman Ales Bialiatski, announced the continuation of its activity without state registration.
Regarding criminal responsibility for the fact of the organization’s activities without state registration provided by Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code, both international and Belarusian human rights organizations have repeatedly stressed the unconstitutional nature of this article, and the lack of conformity with international standards of human rights. A similar assessment of Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code was also given by an expert legal opinion of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe).
In this regard, the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” once again declares that:
The organization’s activities in Belarus are completely legitimate and pursue legitimate activities aimed at the protection of human rights and freedoms;
Activity of the state bodies of the Republic of Belarus, aimed at creating obstacles, exerting pressure or persecution for the implementation of human rights activities, is a violation of the Constitution and the State’s international obligations in the field of human rights;
Reminds about the demands of international and Belarusian human rights communities to immediately and unconditionally release Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski.