On the anniversary day of the Chernobyl disaster, 26 April 2014, an authorized rally was held in Minsk. The event is traditional for the Belarusian opposition and non-governmental environmental organizations. During the action a public observation by RHRPA “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” and Human Rights Centre “Viasna” was coducted by 10 observers. The observers filled unified observation charts in order to assess objectively the nature of the event as well as to note the possible human rights violations during it. According to the information from these charts the course of the mass event and the actions of the law enforcement officers and the participants has been noted. Certain aspects of the results of observation, analysis of compliance with international standards of mass action in the sphere of freedom of peaceful assembly, as well as recommendations for governmental officials and organizers are noted in the following report.
1 – Peaceful nature of the mass event (“if its organizers have professed peaceful intentions and the conduct of the assembly is non-violent”) should be noted during the whole action.
2 – There were cases of limitations of the right to peaceful assembly as one of the organizers was denied to hold the mass event, the time and the route were arbitrary changed and excessively unreasonable security measures have been taken;
3 – The special concern is caused by the cases of arbitrary detentions: preventive ones (8 persons – the names are provided in the list above) as well as detentions after the event (cases of detention of Yury Rubtsou, Leanid Smouzh, Mikalai (the surname is being specified) and other three activists are known), which can be considered as the gross violation of the rights of these persons;
3.1. The detentions of the participants of the mass event were illegal by its nature and were aimed at intimidation of the protesters as well as continuation of the practise of political repressions against political opposition and civil activists.
4 – Inability to identify the law enforcement officers should be noted as most of them are not wearing the uniform and even those who do are not having the ID cards on them.
Besides, it is important to note that regulation of the order of holding mass gatherings by the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” adopted on 30 December 1997 (as amended by 8 November 2011) is not consistent with the international standards. The joint opinion of the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR(CDL-AD (2012) 006) notes: “The Law on Mass Events is characterized by a detailed overregulation of the procedural aspects of holding assemblies. The Law creates a complicated procedure of compliance with a rigid and difficult authorization procedure, while at the same time leaving administrative authorities with a very wide discretion on how to apply the Law. This procedure does not reflect the positive obligation of the State to ensure and facilitate the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Besides, the UN Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly documented violations of the freedom to peaceful assembly from the Belarus side (Art. 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
II. Context of the mass event
An application for conducting the mass event was filed on 8 April 2014 on behalf of three organizers – Yanukevich A.A., Chairman of BPF Party, Khomich M.U., head of the youth wing of BCD Party) and Dabratvor I.N., political activist. It was originally planned to gather the participants around 11.30 a.m. at the area at the entrance of “Kastrychnik” cinema and then hold the demonstration along the route Khmelnitskaha street – Y.Kolasa street – Lahoiski trakt street – Mirashnichenka street – Kurapaty tract (followed by a rally there). However, Dabratvor I.N. was rejected as an organizer of the mass event by the decision of Minsk city executive committee № 4-3/776 of 17.04.2014 on the grounds that he is responsible for the violation of the law on mass events (24.03.2014 – Art.23.34 of the Administrative code of the Republic of Belarus) and therefore under the Art.4 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” adopted on 30 December 1997 (as amended by 8 November 2011) “cannot be organizer of the mass event, act as an organizer or on behalf of organizers in media, global internet network and other information networks”. Besides, Minsk city executive committee has changed time and venue of the mass event by its decision of 17.04.2014 г. № 4-3/775. The organizers had to obey to this decision.
We consider these decisions as restricting in the context of realisation of the right to freedom of assembly which should not take place in a legal state and do not have a legal basis according to international standards.
It worth mentioning, that previous to this mass event 8 persons were detained: Maksim Viniarsky, Illia Dabratvor, Aliksandr Stsepanenka, Uladzislau Siargeyeu, Dmitry Dashkevich, Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Anatoly Mirashnichenka and Uladzislau Zapasau. Detentions and administrative arrests were carried out on fabricated charges in petty hooliganism and other groundless reasons. These detentions can be classified as arbitrary. Internal affairs bodies as well as courts practically exercise practise of unlawful detentions under fabricated charges, which not only violate national laws, but also international obligations.
III. Conduct of the mass event
During the mass event the following facts have been noted:
- Under the stated number of participants up to 950 people, at the venue of the event there have been only about 510 people; about 420 people participated in the action on the way to the Druzhby Narodau Park and 30 people took part in the rally;
- There were no obstacles set towards getting to the venue as well as no obstacles created for observers and representatives of media;
- The organizers of the mass event were wearing special badges. There was no squad present at the action;
- Calls for violent actions from the side of participants have not been noticed;
- Some of the participants used posters with the following inscriptions: “Chernobyl Way”, “Chernobyl – is our pain, we remember it”, “For independent Belarus”, “No to the second nuclear power plant”, “No to the nuclear power plant in Belarus”, “No to the nuclear power plant”, “No to the unauthorized construction of Astravetsk NPP”, “I bought the NPP for grandchildren for my pension”, “There is no place for theatoms for peace eben on the dumpster”, “NPP shines, gives warmth, kills”, “Your silence – is your assent”, “Builder, you will spend more money on medicine, than you earn on the NPP construction”, “Technologies can be different: clean and dirty, which do you choose?”, “Freedom for Vaskovich, freedom for political prisoners! ”, “Our children do not need a new Chernobyl”, “My house – is my castle?”, “Belarusian, you have been put on the counter – you owe 1000 $ for the NPP”, “Belarusain autocephalous church”, “Restore the benefits to the Chernobyl victims”, “Two heads are good?”, “Radiation is like a spoken word that cannot be recalled”, “We are against the construction of Astravetsk NPP”.
- No demands from the side of organizers were noticed; the participants complied with all the demands made by law enforcement officials;
- The road patrol service (DPS) officers have been noted to stop 2 cars with the participants of the action, that beeped and had stickers on bumpers (stickers with state symbol Pahonia and national flag);
- The following representatives of the law enforcement bodies were noticed: 40 police officers in uniforms with the inscription “OMON”, 30 officers with word “Militsiya” written on their uniforms, 10 officers of the road patrol service (DPS) and around 60 persons in plain clothes having headphones, microphones, video cameras and walkie-talkies with them. Some of them had special equipment (handcuffs, rubber sticks, special chemical substances, binding tools and government-issue weapons;
- At the time of the mass event police officers did not use physical force, but one of the observers saw the scene of the detention of Yury Rubtsou, Leanid Smouzh and Mikalai (the surname is being specified) at the trolleybus stop “Valhahradskaya street” during which some force was used.
- Police officers could have been identified as such by their uniforms only; most of them did not have badges and ID cards on their clothes. Large number of executives of Minsk District Directorate of Internal Affairs (RUUS) and of Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk city Executive Committee (GUUS Mingarvykankama) were present at the mass event in plain clothes.
- The police officers did not communicate with the observers properly. They could not say the number of officers , who were guarding the mass event but only responded with abrupt phrases such as “enough” or ” we do not know”;
- On the way to the venue of the rally there have been noted some obstacles, such as 5 metal frames with the use of metal detectors and mandatory personal search. This procedure took a lot of time and had very low capacity which was the reason for the much of the participants to leave the rally;
- Speeches of Professor Georgiy Lepin, Aliaksei Yanukevich, Tatsiana Novikava and Dzmitry Kuciuk at the rally did not contain aggressive and violent calls;
- Only few observers noticed two ambulance cars, but noted their remoteness from the participants of the mass event;
- After the action, six protesters were detained without any reasonable grounds for it. The only known names at the moment are Yury Rubtsou and Leanid Smouzh. The detainees were taken to the detention center at Akrescina in Minsk. On 28 April they will be brought to the Soviet District Court for the administrative hearings.
Organizers are recommended the following:
*Communicate more actively with law enforcement authorities; pay special attention to ensure free movement of the column of members through crossroads and getting to the venue of the rally. If possible, organize the squad.
Law enforcement officials are recommended the following:
* Cease persistent practice of arbitrary detentions during peaceful assemblies;
* In accordance with Article 5 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On the Bodies of Internal Affairs,” “the activities of the bodies of internal affairs should be transparent.” Being guided by this provision, we believe that all law enforcement officers should wear the uniform and having identification cards (badges) on them while protecting public order during mass events;
* Designate a contact person from the police officers stuff for communication with observers, mass media and organizers of mass events;
*Provide free movement of the column of members through crossroads with the stopping of traffic circulation.
The entities having the right of legislative initiative:
* Initiate changes to the Belarusian legislation in order to make it fully compliant with the international standards related to conduct of peaceful assemblies.