Joint statement by human rights organizations
On April 25, 2019, it was reported that the organizers of the annual procession of Čarnobyĺski Šliach were forced to withdraw their application earlier submitted to the Minsk City Executive Committee to request authorization of the march and the rally. The decision cites the excessive policing expenses imposed on the organizers of the event, which, according to available information, amounted to 5,737 rubles, or more than USD 2,000.
For the same reason, representatives of the country’s independent trade unions refused to hold a May Day meeting. For refusing to pay the costs of the Freedom Day gathering on March 24 in Minsk, the organizers, representatives of several opposition parties and organizations, Yury Hubarevich, Mikalai Kazlou, Ihar Barysau and Volha Kavalkova, were prosecuted under administrative procedures for violation of the rules of organization of mass events (Part 2 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus).
The human rights community has repeatedly highlighted the fact that the duty of payment for peaceful assemblies associated with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression, is an unacceptable practice that drastically limits the possibility of free exercise of these freedoms in practice. However, human rights defenders’ proposals to amend the Law “On Mass Events” were not taken into account.
Recommendations to bring the country’s legislation in line with international standards of human rights have been repeatedly addressed to Belarus by international organizations, including on 8 and 9 October 2018 by the UN Human Rights Committee, following the reporting procedure on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Among other things, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the situation of providing medical and cleaning services at meeting locations undertaken by the organizers, as well as the “obstruction of annual rallies on Freedom Day in March and Chernobyl Memorial Day in April.”
The adoption of the June 2018 amendments to the Law “On Mass Events”, as well as the ensuing approval of Decree No. 49 by the Council of Ministers, further deteriorated the situation with the exercise of the freedom of peaceful assembly, since the costs of conducting gatherings, stipulated by the new legislation, are a serious obstacle to the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
It should be noted that the legislation and, accordingly, the government’s Decree, also apply to religious meetings that are traditionally organized by representatives of various denominations. As a result, restrictions on conducting such meetings lead to restrictions on religious freedom.
Due to the current situation, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call on:
the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus:
- to amend the Law “On Mass Events”, bringing it into line with international standards of human rights;
the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus:
- to abolish Decree No. 49 “On Approval of the Procedure of payment for services of protection of public order provided by the internal affairs bodies, the costs associated with medical care, cleaning of the territory after the conduct of mass events”;
the authorities of the Republic of Belarus:
- to guarantee citizens’ rights to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression;
- to stop the practice of accountability for the peaceful exercise of the constitutional freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend
Belarusian PEN Center
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Assembly of NGOs