BLR 001 / 0317 / OBS 027
March 16, 2017
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), 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 of Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi, members of the Gomel chapter of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”.
According to the information received, on March 17, 2017, Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi will appear before the Central District Court of Gomel on charges of “participation in unsanctioned protests” (under Article 23,34 of the Code of Administrative Offences) after participating in peaceful demonstrations that took place on February 19, 2017, in Gomel where nearly 4,000 citizens took to the streets to protest against Presidential Decree No. 3 "on the prevention of dependency on social aid" which in violation of international human rights law sanctions unemployment by imposing a penalty ranging from a fee to imprisonment on Belarusian citizens who have worked less than a certain number of days  (see background information). If found guilty as charged, both face an administrative fine up to 350 euros or risk being placed in administrative detention for up to 15 days.
In addition, Mr. Leanid Sudalenka has drafted and submitted to courts more than 200 complaints on behalf of citizens against the provisions of the Decree in response to notifications that citizens received in the beginning of the year 2017 urging them to pay the fee. Mr. Leanid Sudalenka was also the first lawyer bringing a successful claim against the fee, setting a precedent for approximately half a million Belarusians who received a notification to pay a fee to the State. As a result, he was publicly named by the authorities the “lawyer of spongers”.
The Observatory thus believes that the judicial harassment against Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi is a retaliation of their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.
The Observatory urges Belarusian authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level against Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi and to uphold international human rights standards to which Belarus is bound with respect to freedom of assembly.
In April 2015, President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenka signed Decree No. 3 “on the prevention of dependency on social aid” as a means to “stimulate employment”. This Decree violates international human rights law as it imposes fines and imprisonment as a sanction for unemployment .
The Decree requires citizens to work more than 183 days a year or to pay a special duty to finance government expenditures. As provided by Decree No. 3, non-payment or partial payment of such a levy entails administrative responsibility in the form of a fine or administrative arrest. Thus, stimulation of employment is sought through forced employment and the threat of short-term imprisonment rather than through the implementation of competitive salaries, social benefits and guarantees.
It should be noted that the Belarusian authorities have been actively practicing forced labour, which has repeatedly provoked criticism from both Belarusian and international human rights organizations .
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. Sudalenka and Poplavnyi;
ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;
iii. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly;
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.
· President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Belarus, Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, Email: email@example.com
· General Prosecutor, Alexander Konyuk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 17 226 42 52
· Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: + 375 17 200 86 87
· President of the Supreme Court of Belarus, Mr. Valiantsin Alehavich Sukala, Belarus, Email: email@example.com
· Administration of the Central District Court of Gomel, Tel/Fax: +375 232 77 68 77, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· H.E. Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748 24 51. Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Aleksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Fax: + 32 2.340.02.87, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, March 16, 2017
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:
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