Conviction of two members of Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the Head of the Human Rights Center “Legal Assistance to the Population”

24/03/2017
Urgent Appeal

New information
BLR 001 / 0317 / OBS 027.1

Conviction / Arbitrary detention
Belarus
March 24, 2017

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 conviction of Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka [1] and Anatolii Poplavnyi, members of the Gomel chapter of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and of the arbitrary detention of the latter, as well as of the conviction of Mr. Oleg Volchek, Head of the Human Rights Center “Legal Assistance to the Population” [2].

According to the information received, on March 17, 2017 the Centralny District Court of Gomel city found Messrs. Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi guilty of non-compliance with the legal requirements on the organisation and conducting of mass events under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences in connection with a demonstration against the Presidential Decree No. 3 held on February 19, 2017 in Gomel (see background information). As a result, Mr. Leanid Sudalenka was given a warning and Anatolii Poplavnyi was sentenced to ten days of administrative detention.

Furthermore, on March 23, 2017, the Sovetskii District Court of Gomel sentenced Anatolii Poplavnyi to five days of administrative detention for violating the Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences in connection with his participation to a demonstration against Presidential Decree No. 3 on March 12, 2017 in Rogachev.

Other human rights defenders have faced similar harassment for participating in mass demonstrations that have been ongoing for more than a month in different cities of Belarus in protest to the Presidential Decree No. 3 imposing a tax on unemployment (see background information).

On March 21, 2017, the Frunzensky District Court of Minsk sentenced Mr. Oleg Volchek to thirteen days of administrative detention under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences for participation in the unauthorised march protesting Presidential Decree No. 3“ on February 17, 2017 in Minsk where he monitored the assembly and provided legal advice to participants [3]. The judgment against Mr. Oleg Volchek has been handed down in absentia.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concerns as theconviction of the three human rights defenders appear to be linked to their human rights activities opposing 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.

Therefore, the Observatory urges Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Anatolii Poplavnyi and to put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Anatolii Poplavnyi, Oleg Volchek and Leanid Sudalenka .

Background information:

In April 2015, President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenka signed the Presidential Decree No. 3 “On the prevention of dependency on social aid” that obliges citizens to work more than 183 days a year or to pay a special duty to finance government expenditures. 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.

Throughout the country, protests have erupted to oppose the Presidential Decree. On February 19, 2017, protests gathering nearly 4,000 citizens took place in Gomel where members of “Viasna” Leanid Sudalenka and Anatolii Poplavnyi were monitoring the peaceful assembly and providing citizens with legal information.

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 ongoing peaceful protests were massively repressed with hundreds of protesters detained [4]. In Belarus, administrative detention in conditions amounting to ill-treatment is used a tool of repression against any form of dissent [5].

Actions requested:

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

i. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Anatolii Poplavnyi;

ii. Put an end to any form of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Anatolii Poplavnyi, Oleg Volchek and Leanid Sudalenka as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Anatolii Poplavnyi, Leanid Sudalenka and Oleg Volchek as well as all human rights defenders in Belarus;

iv. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly;

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

vi. 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 Lukashenka, Belarus, Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or + 375 172 22 38 72, Email: contact@president.gov.by
General Prosecutor, Alexander Konyuk, Belarus, Fax: + 375 17 226 42 52
Minister of Justice of Belarus, Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Email: kanc@minjust.by, Fax: + 375 17 200 86 87
President of the Supreme Court of Belarus, Mr. Valiantsin Alehavich Sukala, Belarus, Email: scjustrb@pmrb.gov.by
Administration of the Central District Court of Gomel, Tel/Fax: +375 232 77 68 77, Email: centr-gomel@court.by
H.E. Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, 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

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

***

Paris-Geneva, March 24, 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:
E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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