Belarusian authorities face criticism for continued curtailment of civic rights

Peaceful Assembly

In December, a court in Minsk rejected Dzmitry Paliyenka's appeal against a two-year suspended sentence. Mr. Paliyenka was one of the people involved in the Critical Mass cycling protest in April 2016. According to local human rights group Viasna, he was accused of tearing the jacket of a traffic policeman during the dispersal of the rally. While no witnesses during the trial could confirm that this was done by Paliyenka, his sentence was upheld. Viasna has also drawn attention to the heavy-handed dispersal tactics used by security forces during the rally and the unwarranted persecution of activists exercising their right to peaceful assembly. 

At the end of October, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Viasna published a monitoring report on the Dziady mass protest held in Minsk late last year. Although the event took place peacefully and there were no reports of participants carrying weapons, the authorities' facilitation of the mobilisation was substandard. Coordinators were obliged to obtain two permits in order to hold the event and were made to pay for the services of state bodies to ensure public order. The financial burden or taxation placed upon protesters is widely considered a disproportionate restriction of the right to peaceful assembly and in contravention of international best practice standards. Viasna has also noted that it is often impossible to identify members of security forces as most of them do not wear official uniforms. Even security service employees who do wear uniforms do not always wear identity badges. The use of undercover security forces to infiltrate protests in Belarus is also thought to facilitate a culture of impunity for abuses committed during mobilisations. 

Expression

In November, the Human Rights House Network wrote an article highlighting a European Parliament resolution on the political situation in Belarus. The resolution called upon the Belarusian authorities to rehabilitate former political prisoners, to end the harassment of independent media, and to repeal article 193.1 of the Criminal Code establishing criminal responsibility for activities of unregistered civil organisations. Many Members of the European Parliament have underlined the lack of progress on creating conditions for free and fair elections and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Belarus.

On 28th October, Belarusian blogger Eduard Palchys was released from provisional detention having been detained for ten months. Despite his release, he is now only a partially free man due to surveillance measures imposed by authorities. A Minsk court decided that he is guilty of “inciting hatred” and “distributing pornographic material”, and sentenced him to 21 months of “release under surveillance.” Because of the time Palchys had already spent in pre-trial detention, the sentenced was subsequently reduced to one month.