Viasna fails to protect its website in court

stefanovich-gulak-sud

On February 18 Judge of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk considered a complaint filed by deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich to challenge a decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office to blacklist the spring96.org website as a resource with restricted access.

At the beginning of the trial, Valiantsin Stefanovich requested to allow chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak contribute to proceedings. He also asked to announce the decision of the Prosecutor General, on the basis of which the spring96.org website was blacklisted. According to human rights defender, the Prosecutor’s Office had no reason to blacklist the website, as materials posted on it in no way violate the law, but on the contrary contribute to improving the legal culture.

The Prosecutor General’s position was based on the fact that the website contains information about the organization which has not passed state registration in accordance with the law and, therefore, publication of such information is a violation of law. Representative of prosecuting authorities, Pavel Eliseyeu, said no complaints from citizens against information posted on spring96.org were received, and the decision was the Prosecutor’s Office own initiative, launched under the President’s Decree No. 60 dealing with internet media. The representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office said that information on the website of the HRC “Viasna” promotes illegal activities, undermining the foundations of statehood, so the ban for public sector organizations to have free access to the resource is reasonable.

During debates, Stefanovich said that the representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office failed to explain what rights of citizens were violated through information that the applicant disseminated on spring96.org. “Our business is based on the principles of human rights. We support public policies to combat extremism, violence, ethnic, racial and other discrimination. I insist that the information that we disseminate in no way breaks the law. And the prosecutors did not provide any counterarguments,” says Viasna deputy chairman.

As a result, the court ruled to find Valiantsin Stefanovich improper plaintiff, because he is not the owner of the website spring96.org, and blacklisting the website did not violate his personal rights. In addition, the judge ruled to discontinue proceedings in the civil case. Valiantsin Stefanovich is not entitled to appealing the decision in cassation and supervisory procedures, but may file a private complaint within 10 days.

On February 21, Valiantsin Stefanovich sent a private complaint to the Board of Civil Cases of the Minsk City Court to challenge a decision of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk, who dismissed his lawsuit. In his complaint, human rights defender noted that “the court concluded that the decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office of August 8, 2011 imposed no restrictions on me, and my rights were not violated. Thus, according to the court, I am an improper applicant, since the law does not entitle me to appeal this decision.”

The deputy chairman of the HRC”Viasna” alson stated the the court’s conclusion that he was an improper applicant was totally wrong:

“Any citizen, if he believes that his rights have been violated, has the right to go to court. In this case, I legitimately exercised my legal right and the court should have decided on the case, either to legitimize the actions and reject the complaint, or find them illegal and order to take measures to restore my rights. The Code of Civil Procedures, in principle, does not contain such thing as the “improper applicant”, it simply does not exist. Therefore, the decision restricted my right to appeal to the court as a citizen, and the court evaded assessing the facts and issuing a decision. I think we’ll meet again with the venerable prosecutor in the Tsentralny District Court and the court will consider my complaint on the merits. We will also return to the debate on restricted access to the internet resource spring96.org”.

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