The Observatory: Confirmation in appeal of the ban of a book written by Ales Bialiatski

Observatory Human Rights Defenders
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.

New information :

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the confirmation in appeal of the ban of a book 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. According to the information received, on March 31, 2014, the Hrodna Regional Court confirmed in appeal the decision of the Ashmiany District Court to forbid the book entitled “Asvechanyia Belaruschunai” (“Enlightened by Belarusianness”) written by Mr. Ales Bialiatski.

The panel of judges for civil cases reportedly took only three minutes to announce its decision, which proves that it was made in advance. Moreover, Judge Kolesnik, who chaired the case, behaved aggressively, and did not allow the applicants to speak in full and convey their views to the court.

The March 31 decision was issued following an appeal which had been lodged by Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka, member of the HRC “Viasna”, against a first instance ruling issued on February 11, 2014 (see background information). The book is a digest of literary articles and essays on Belarusian literature, and also features four texts written during detention.

The Observatory expresses its concern about the confirmation of the decision to confiscate the copies of Mr. Bialiatski’s book on biased grounds, and considers it as a means to further sanction his human rights activities.

Background information:

On July 3, 2013 40 copies of the book were confiscated from Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border checkpoint “Kamenny Loh”.

On July 5, 2013, a notice was sent to Ms. Tatsiana 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.Tatsiana 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”.

From July 24 to 30, two scientists of the Hrodna State University, composing the expert commission, held an examination, the results of which acknowledged that the book “could damage the image of the Republic of Belarus”.

On August 14, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana 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 submissi on of the expert materials, and that such materials should be passed to the expert during the same working day.

On September 5, 2013, Ms.Tatsiana Reviaka received the conclusions of an expert examination ordered by the Ashmiany Customs Department, which alleged that Mr.Ales Bialiatski’s book “could damage the image of the Republic of Belarus”.

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”.

On September 13, 2013, Ms.Tatsiana 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 November 13, 2013, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka received a response to her complaint from the State Customs Committee. She appealed against the violations of the customs officials of the Ashmiany Customs Office during the appointment of an expert examination of the book.

On January 2, 2014, Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka received a message from the Ashmiany Customs Department that the books must be re-exported from Belarus. Later she received another message that the books would be destructed if they were not re-exported before January 21.

On January 29, 2014, a preliminary hearing was held at the Ashmiany District Court regarding the lawsuit lodged by Ms. Tatsiana Reviaka against local customs officials who prohibited the importation of the book “Enlightened by Belarusianness”. On the day of the preliminary hearing, Ms.Reviaka learned that the re-examination was conducted from November 20 to December 9, 2013.

On February 11, 2014, the Judge of Ashmiany District Court, Ms. Tatsiana Yemelyanovitch, announced the verdict forbidding the distribution on the territory of Belarus of the book “Enlightened by Belarusianness”. Ms. Reviaka lodged an appeal against the verdict.

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