Belarus: Arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Vladimir Velichkin and other 17 environmental defenders

17/04/2019
Urgent Appeal

New information
BLR 001 / 0219 / OBS 018.1
Arbitrary detention/
Judicial harassment/
Obstacle to freedom to peaceful assembly
Belarus
April 17, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Vladimir Velichkin, an environmental rights defender and member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” (HRC “Viasna”) [1], as well as other 17 environmental defenders, in the context of the repression of an environmental protest movement against the construction of a battery plant in Brest [2].

According to the information received, on April 12, 2019, Mr. Vladimir Velichkin was arrested at the Leninsky police department in Brest, after being summoned by the police to appear at the precinct. Nine other environmental defenders—Ms. Ekaterina Basargina and Messrs. Dmitry Androsyuk, Vladimir Kozlovsky, Denis Malashenko, Sergey Svirsky, Vladislav Abramovich, Oleg Yarmolenko, Demyan Lepesevich, and Oleg Vyalov— were arrested at the Leninsky police department on the same day. Mr. Dmitry Androsyuk and Ms. Ekaterina Basargina were released several hours after the arrests. Others spent three days in a temporary detention facility of the department. All ten defenders, including Mr. Andrasyuk and Ms. Basargina, were summoned before the Leninsky District Court of the city of Brest for a hearing on April 15, 2019.

At least eight other protesters—Ms. Tatyana Fesikova and Messrs. Alexander Kabanov, Dmitry Bekalyuk, Ales Ablyak, Yegor Kondratyuk, Vitaly Kozak, Victor Sender, and Nikolay Trotsyuk—were arrested on April 14, 2019, while they were protesting on Brest’s Lenin Square against the construction of the battery plant. They were also summoned before the Leninsky District Court of the city of Brest for a hearing on April 15, 2019. Mr. Alexander Kabanov was released three hours after his arrest.

According to the information received, Mr. Vladimir Velichkin and most of the other protesters were arrested under Article 23.34 of the Belarus Code of Administrative offences for violating the procedure for organizing or holding mass events. The charges are related to the protest along Brest’s Sovetskaya Street on April 7, 2019, during which people chanted slogans against the construction of the plant. Ms. Tatyana Fesikova was accused under the same Article 23.34 for handing out yellow balloons with a protest appeal on March 31, 2019. Mr. Dmitry Bekalyuk was summoned to the Court as a witness in the case of Ms. Fesikova but was later accused of being three hours late to the precinct.

The hearings in the cases of all 18 defenders took place at the Leninsky police department in Brest, on April 15, 2019. Media and human rights defenders were not allowed to attend the hearings as observers. The Court postponed the consideration of cases of those arrested on April 12, 2019 —Messrs. Vladimir Velichkin, Dmitry Adrosyuk, Vladimir Kozlovsky, Denis Malashenko, Sergey Svirsky, Vladislav Abramovich, Demyan Lepesevich, and Oleg Vyalov—to April 18, 2019. The hearing in the case of Vitaly Kozak will be held on April 24, 2019. The hearings in the cases of Ms. Tatyana Fesikova and Messrs. Yegor Kondratyuk, Ales Ablyak, and Victor Sender were postponed to April 25, 2019.

Mr. Oleg Yarmolenko was fined with 30 basic units (the equivalent of approximately 24.5 Belarusian Rubles, approximately 10 Euros), Mr. Dmitry Bekalyuk with one basic unit, and Mr. Nikolay Trotsyuk with 10 basic units.

The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time Messrs. Vladimir Velichkin, Alexander Kabanov and Vitaly Kazak are arrested and that other human rights defenders have been targeted for their participation in protests against this battery plant in Brest, such as Mr. Roman Kysliak [3] . It emphasises that the Belarusian legislation violates the right to peaceful assembly by unjustifiably prohibiting citizens to hold peaceful assemblies without authorisation. In Belarus, the authorities routinely reject requests to hold peaceful assemblies related to practically any human rights or other societal issue, either without providing adequate reason or by referring to the law that requires organisers to ensure first medical aid during the event and to subsequently clean the event venue [4].

The Observatory condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Messrs. Vladimir Velichkin and all the other 17 environmental defenders above mentioned, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association and assembly.

Background information:

On February 16, 2019, Mr. Vladimir Velichkin was arrested at the Leninsky police department in Brest, after being summoned by the police to appear at the precinct. After his arrest, he spent two days in a temporary detention facility of the department. On February 18, he was summoned before the Leninsky District Court of the city of Brest. The Court found him guilty of participating in an unauthorized mass event under Article 23.34 of the Belarus Code of Administrative offences and sentenced him to a fine of 382,5 Belarusian rubles (approximately 156 Euros).

The charges related to a rally organised to protest the construction of a battery plant in Brest— which took place on December 30, 2018 and was attended by around 170 protestors. The rally was the 45th in a series of related protests that have been held on the Lenin square in Brest every Sunday since February 25, 2018.

On December 30, 2018, Mr. Vladimir Velichkin, who participated in this rally as well as in numerous previous rallies against the battery plant, gave a brief interview to online blogger Mr. Sergei Petrukhin. The Court considered that the message he passed during the interview contained “negativity towards the authorities and attracted the attention of citizens”, which formed the basis for his arrest and subsequent charges.

Mr. Vitaly Kazak was arrested and placed in the same temporary detention facility as Mr. Vladimir Velichkin—the Leninsky police department in Brest—on February 16, 2019. He was accused of “organizing an unauthorized mass event in an inappropriate location involving a citizen of a foreign state” (Article 23.34 of the Code). The court found him guilty and charged him with 1,020 Belarusian rubles (approximately 419 Euros).

In the morning of February 17, 2019, in the city of Bereza, the police arrested Mr. Alexander Kabanov. At time of the arrest he was at the Bereza railway station, as he was going to Brest to join the Sunday rally as usual. Mr. Alexander Kabanov posted on his Facebook page that he was arrested for participating in a rally in Brest on February 10, 2019. He was brought to Bereza police department and released following questioning on the February 10, 2019 events.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus, urging them to:

i. Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Vladimir Velichkin, all the other 17 environmental defenders above mentioned, as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Vladimir Velichkin, all the other 17 environmental defenders above mentioned, and all human rights defenders in Belarus;

iii. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to freedom of association and assembly, as established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular its Articles 21 and 22;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Articles 1, 2, 5 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Belarus.

Addresses:

President Aliaksandr Lukashenko, Belarus, fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, email: contact@president.gov.by;
General Prosecutor, Alexandr Konyuk, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 226 42 52, email: info@prokuratura.gov.by ;
Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Belarus, fax: + 375 17 200 86 87, email: kanc@minjust.by ;
Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Mr. Leonid Anfimov, Belarus, fax: +375 17 289 14 84, email: kgk@mail.belpak.by;
Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51, email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int ;
H.E. Mr. Aleksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Fax: + 32 2.340.02.87, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by;
Svetlogorsk district court, Belarus, fax: +375 (2342) 7-02-47, 4-02-39; e-mail: svetlgorsk@court.by.

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, April 17, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] HRC Viasna is a member of FIDH.
[2] The construction of the plant is largely criticised by ecological defenders and civil society of Belarus. They claim that the battery factory constructed 7 km away from the city will pollute the environment of Brest and the Brest region. Human rights defenders highlight that the plant facilities are being built with numerous irregularities in terms of security and environmental norms. Since the beginning of 2018, a civil campaign has been underway against the construction of the battery plant in Brest. In February 2018, a petition of about 40,000 signatures against the construction was transferred to the Administration of the President of Belarus. Since February 25, 2018, every Sunday, protesters assemble peacefully and silently on the Lenin Square in Brest to express their opposition by feeding pigeons on the square. When organisers started the protests, they sought authorisation from the authorities, yet they only got one authorisation (in April 2018) while all other requests were denied. Therefore, protesters decided to simply assemble and feed pigeons or carry balloons in sign of protest.
[3] See Observatory Urgent Appeal BLR 003 / 1018 / OBS 128, published on October 19, 2018.
[4] See the Observatory Urgent Appeals BLR 002 / 0918 / OBS 119 published on September 28, 2018 and BLR 002 / 0918 / OBS 119.1 published on October 12, 2018.

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