Belarus: Judicial harassment and intimidation against Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka and Ms. Yulia Levanchuk

26/10/2020
Urgent Appeal

BLR 003 / 1020 / OBS 115
Judicial harassment / Intimidation
Belarus
October 26, 2020

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment and intimidation against Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka, lawyer for detained opposition leaders Viktar Babaryka and Maria Kalensnikava, and Ms. Yulia Levanchuk, lawyer defending the owner of a flower shop who was the victim of severe police brutality after having handed out flowers to protesters[1].

According to the information received, on October 15, 2020, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus revoked the license to practice law of Mr. Plychanka and Ms. Levanchuk. Both lawyers will appeal this decision.

On October 7, 2020, Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka had received a notification from the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus that a meeting of its Commission for the Qualification for legal practice in the Republic of Belarus had been scheduled for October 15 to consider the revocation of his license to practice law. It was explained through the notification that Mr. Pylchanka’s involvement in “the commission of a misdemeanour was incompatible with the title of lawyer”, namely, “the commission of actions discrediting the bar”, was the reason for this decision.

Mr. Pylchanka had received no information regarding these complaints prior to October 7, 2020, from the Ministry of Justice, and the materials to be considered at the meeting of the Commission as supporting evidence for his debarment were only shared with him for review on October 9, 2020.

The evidence brought against Mr. Pylchanka consisted of an interview published on the independent news website Tut.by where he is seen commenting on the actions which should be taken by law enforcement officials and the judicial system in Belarus following the widespread and unjustified use of violence and torture against civilians by such agencies over the last few months. Specifically, Mr. Pylchanka recommended that such actions of law enforcement officials should be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka’s and Ms. Yulia Levanchuk’s cases of debarment, which appear to be an attempt to put pressure on Mr. Pylchanka with regards to his work in providing legal aid to opposition members, and on Ms. Levanchuk with regards to her work in defending victims of police brutality. The Observatory also considers this as an attempt to intimidate other legal professionals who defend human rights defenders and opposition voices, one of many actions to discourage further work with similar cases. Such tactics can be seen across Belarus at this time, where any dissident voices are brutally shut down by violent police forces during peaceful protests in the streets, or by the judicial harassment of the lawyers who defend those voices.

Actions Requested:

The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka and Ms. Yulia Levanchuk, and all other lawyers and human rights defenders in Belarus;

ii. Reinstatethe licenses of Mr. Pylchanka and Ms. Levanchuk, and put an end to any obstacle to the exercise of their professional activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchanka and Ms. Yulia Levanchuk and all other lawyers and human rights defenders in Belarus, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;

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

Addresses:

· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by
· Mr. Aliaksandr Konyuk, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by
· Mr. Leonid Anfimov, Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

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

***

Geneva-Paris, October 26, 2020

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 the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH 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 OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
· Tel FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18


[1] See https://twitter.com/VoicesBelarus/status/1315953157487431681.

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