Free association curtailed through denial of registration, travel bans

Association

In October, local rights group Viasna documented the continued violation of all civic space rights in Belarus, including the freedom of association. Among these violations was the authorities' rejection of an application for registration from local civil society organisation, the Committee for the Support of Entrepreneurship Solidarity. The Ministry of Justice denied their request for formal registration as an association, citing minor typographical errors on their application. The refusal to register a public association is a serious step, which constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of association when it is based only on minor or administrative flaws on the application form.

Elena Tonkacheva, a well-known Belarusian human rights defender and Chair of the board of the Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend), has been denied a request to remove a ban on her entry to Belarus. According to Lawtrend's website, at the beginning of October 2016, Ms. Tonkacheva appealed her ban on entering Belarus and asked to be removed from the list of persona non grata. The appeal was rejected and Ms. Tonkacheva was informed about the criminal responsibility she faces in case she tries to enter or stay in Belarus. This is the second time the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus has refused an appeal to remove Ms. Tonkacheva's ban, in a blatant attempt to continue weakening local civic groups who call for an improvement in civic freedoms.

On 5th November, local civil society groups the Legal Transformation Center and the Assembly of Democratic NGOs organised a seminar in Mogilev on 'Registration and financing of non-profit organisations' for representatives of civil society and interested experts. During the event, participants had the opportunity to obtain useful information about regulations governing registration and financing of civil society in Belarus.

Expression

A new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, includes fresh evidence on violations of the freedom of expression and the media. The report, which was presented to the UN General Assembly on 28th October, lists a series of concerns including government control of recent elections, the lack of a free press, government suppression of peoples’ ability to meet, and jailing of a political blogger. He reiterated the fact that Belarus remains the only European country with no privately-owned nationwide media. The report also notes that Belarusian authorities are yet to adhere to the repeated appeals from international actors to respect human rights. 

In a separate development, deputy chair of the Homieĺ branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists freelance journalist, Larysa Shchyrakova, submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee about violations of the right to receive and disseminate information. Ms. Shchyrakova, a freelance journalist, has repeatedly faced administrative sanction because her professional activities. Her appeal to national courts and the prosecutor's office not to restrict her rights have so far not yielded any results. The latest fine she received stems from her cooperation with satellite channel Belsat, which is based in Poland.


Peaceful Assembly

It remains almost impossible to organise peaceful assemblies, meetings or pickets in Belarus. In October, the administration in Homieĺ district forbade people from forming picket lines in town squares, as a result pickets scheduled for 20th to 23rd October were denied permission by authorities as they were planned for town squares. In almost all cases, permitted locations for mass events in regional centers are stadiums on the outskirts of urban areas where demonstrations are not likely to be very visible to the public, close to government buildings or inaccessible to the media. Similar decisions were also recently taken in at least eight other localities. The main goal of the demonstrations in Homieĺ was to attract public attention to the need to protect the independence and sovereignty of Belarus. 

Korma, Khoiniki and Buda-Koshelevo district executive committees also denied approval for similar events because the contracts provided by the initiators of the picket did not ensure the necessary protection of demonstrators during mass events. Officials in Vetka meanwhile required applicant Vasily Polyakov to pay for the police services, ambulance and local public utilities. Human rights activists appealed against the decision to deny permission for the pickets, asserting that these decisions were not in line with the international commitments of Belarus.