CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Belarus

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 07.03.2019 at 16:26

Belarus-Overview

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.

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Protesters punished for paper boats protest

Protesters punished for paper boats protest

On 26th November 2018, a protest took place near the Russian Embassy in Minsk.

Peaceful Assembly

On 26th November 2018, a protest took place near the Russian Embassy in Minsk. A group of young people placed paper boats with Ukrainian symbols near the fence in support of the Ukrainian crew members detained by Russia. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, in November 2018 Russian authorities detained several Ukrainian sailors for entering Russian waters. The protesters were charged with participating in an unauthorised protest. On 22nd December 2018, a court of the Minsk district issued a decision and fined three of the protesters, Diana Seredyuk, Svetlana Kovalenkoto and Yevhen Batur, to pay 490 roubles (around 229 USD).

Expression

According to Belarus Digest, independent media outlets in Belarus continue to face pressure. As an example, the report mentioned the case of 18 journalists arrested and charged under Article 349(2) of the Belarusian Criminal Code for allegedly accessing information belonging to the state news agency BelTA  as reported by the CIVICUS Monitor. The charges against most of the journalists were dropped, however, Maryna Zolatava, editor in chief of the website Tut.by faced trial after being hit with further charges. On 12th February 2019 the court held preliminary hearings. 

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) at least 100 fines were imposed to journalists during 2018, which the organisation considered an "unprecedented spate of fines designed solely to gag independent journalists”.
 

Association in Belarus

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.


Peaceful Assembly in Belarus

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.


Expression in Belarus

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.