Paranoia, fear and ruthlessness underpin the government’s attitude toward civic freedoms in Belarus. Citizens, civic organisations and media outlets all need permission from the state to operate, a situation that severely curtails independent comment and dissent.read more
On 18th March 2019, the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs and the Legal Transformation Center published the annual review of Freedom of Association in Belarus. The report documents the state of the freedom of association in 2018, specifically highlighting the legal conditions of public associations and other civil society organisations in Belarus for the last year. The report highlights key challenges that were experienced in 2018 including criminal prosecution of civil society representatives, the de-facto ban for Non Commercial Organisations to have legal addresses in private residential houses, and changes in financial sustainability of CSOs owing to changes in donors’ approaches and policies among others. The full text of the Review can be found here.
In February 2019, the same civil society organisations also prepared and published a report on electronic fundraising. The report explains the mechanisms and tools for obtaining online donation for non-governmental organisations in the Eurasian space. This is an important resource for civil society organisations in the region to support their fundraising campaigns. Such methods are becoming increasingly popular in Eurasia. The report includes research on the legal framework of fundraising in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and places emphasis on electronic and online tools, with recommendations on how to use existing tools.
On 5th April 2019, 72 year old opposition female activist Nina Baginskaya was arrested and detained by the police for disorderly conduct and disobedience to the police. Bagisnskaya was arrested in Kuropaty area in the outskirts of Minsk for protesting and expressing her disagreement with the actions of the Borovlyansky forestry enterprise. On 4th April 2019, at the order of the authorities, the company demolished 70 wooden crosses which had been installed by public activists last summer to commemorate victims of the Communist regime repression. On 8th April, it was reported that she was fined 1,275 rubles (612 USD) by the Minsk district court.
Kuropaty area is a locality in Belarus where the victims of Communist repression were buried between 1937 and 1941. In order to save the graves of the Communist regime repressed victims, in 2001 many activists from Belarus installed crosses. The authorities however demolished some of them on the grounds that they were illegally installed. The conflict between the population and the authorities has been going on for a long time and many protests have been organised near the place. In 2011, activists protested against the building of a restaurant complex a few meters from the crosses, although the restaurant was still constructed. In 2017, Belarusian activists opposed the construction of a business park near the restaurant. After this incident, the Belarusian president acknowledged the historical importance of the site and accepted the installation of a monument in 2018.
On 17th April 2019, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported about the arrest of 18 environmental defenders in Belarus who were protesting against the construction of a battery plant in Brest. Some of the protesters were released a few hours later, while the rest spent up to 3 days in detention. The protesters were arrested under Article 23.34 of the Belarus Code of Administrative Offences for violating the procedure for organising or holding mass events. FIDH condemned the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of the environments who were being punished for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and assembly.
According to a press release by the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) party published on 1st April 2019, the pressure against the opposition party has continued in Belarus. On 1st April 2019, Vital Rymasheuski the leader of the BCD party, was summoned to the Belarusian Investigative Committee. On 22nd March, one day before the celebration of the Freedom Day 2019 in Minsk, Rymasheuski’s younger brother, Siarhei, was summoned for questioning by the same Investigation Committee in relation to a murder case of a girl in 1989.
Rymasheuski, told the press:
"I consider the summon to be questioned by the Investigation Committee only as one of the primitive Soviet methods of pressure. One day before the Freedom Day, all of a sudden, my brother was summoned for questioning as a witness in a criminal case of 1989. My brother was eight years old back then. The Belarusian repressive apparatus violates all conceivable norms of human morality. Unfortunately, the pressure through relatives, through family, the blackmailing of political opponents are methods of terror, which are still in the arsenal of the Belarusian regime."
People in Belarus are unable to form associations without the government’s permission. Despite international and constitutional commitments, the government of Belarus has continued to subvert the right to freedom of association through legislative restrictions targeting organisations that are critical of the government.
People in Belarus are unable to form associations without the government’s permission. Despite international and constitutional commitments, the government of Belarus has continued to subvert the right to freedom of association through legislative restrictions targeting organisations that are critical of the government. Judicial harassment, freezing financial assets and legal instruments are all used to silence ‘unfavourable’ CSOs. Forty nine separate legal documents affect the environment for civil society, illustrating the extent of the over-regulation of the civil society sector. Foreign financial assistance can only be legally accessed for certain activities, which do not include human rights work, educational activity or gender equality. Politicised and selective approval of CSO registration requests exacerbates these problems. Non-registered CSOs are classed as illegal and are thus vulnerable to prosecution. For example, Local human rights organisation Viasna has suffered relentless intimidation and harassment, and was repeatedly refused registration.
People in Belarus cannot freely assemble, and civic organisations are unable to muster widespread participation in public demonstrations.
People in Belarus cannot freely assemble, and civic organisations are unable to muster widespread participation in public demonstrations. Laws overseeing gatherings, meetings and protests are used in dereliction of constitutional and international obligations to guarantee freedom of assembly in Belarus. No information about an assembly can be disseminated before government approval has been granted. This legal structure gives the authorities power to arbitrarily deny permission or suppress gatherings. In a bid to deter public mobilisations, particularly around campaigns critical of the government, pre-emptive arrests of activists have been used to stifle planned assemblies. Those protests that are allowed are often moved away from central areas to dissuade participation and decrease the visibility of dissent.
Freedom of expression in Belarus is meticulously controlled in a bid to prevent criticism of the government.
Freedom of expression in Belarus is meticulously controlled in a bid to prevent criticism of the government. The situation for journalists is dire. Independent media face a variety of judicial regulations and fines designed to curtail independent expression. Journalists face routine harassment, including physical violence. Freedom of expression on the Internet in Belarus is reported as the worst in Europe. New laws give authorities the power to arbitrarily block websites for spurious reasons. These powers have been used to interfere with the websites of several prominent local human rights groups in Belarus.