BELARUS: Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Citizenship Department acknowledges mistake regarding the travel ban imposed on “Viasna” Vice-President Valentin Stefanovich

Urgent Appeal
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Paris-Geneva, July 25, 2012. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), welcomes the official lifting of the travel ban imposed by mistake on the Vice-President of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Viasna”, Mr. Valentin Stefanovich.

On July 16, 2012 the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk was expected to determine whether both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Affairs should remove Mr. Valentin Stefanovich from the travel ban list. During a new court session held on July 20, Mr. Aliaksei Biahun, Head of the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Citizenship Department, presented official documents confirming the removal of Mr. Stefanovich from the blacklist. The case was therefore dismissed by the judge.

This case had been brought before the court at the request of Mr. Stefanovich on March 27, 2012, after he was stopped at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border crossing point “Kamenny Loh” on March 11, 2012 and was told that he was banned from leaving the territory of the Republic of Belarus, as his name was reportedly registered in the database of those subject to foreign travel restrictions. According to notice n°2720 issued by the Immigration and Citizenship Department of the Partyzanski District Police Department of Minsk upon Mr. Stefanovich’s request, his name was added to the list on the ground that he had escaped from measures connected with the call-up to military service, although Mr. Stefanovich is 12 years older than the maximum call-up age and that he served in the army back in 1990-1992.

However, on June 13, 2012, Mr. Stefanovich received a letter from the Immigration and Citizenship Department Chief, Mr. Biahun, stating that in reality the military commissariat (Voenkomat), a body which is part of the Ministry of Defence, had not restricted his right to travel outside Belarus, but that Mr. Stefanovich’s name was rather put on the blacklist by mistake since some technical glitches occurred from February 24, 2012 to March 10, 2012 as the commissariat “was very busy with many other requests”. On June 8, 2012, the Immigration and Citizenship Department sent a letter to Mr. Stefanovich in which it admitted having enrolled by mistake Mr. Stefanovich on the list of those subjected to foreign travel restrictions, referring to a “maintenance failure”. Mr. Valentin Stefanovich was informed at the time that he was unable to leave Belarus, “until the database check is completed”.

Moreover, it is to be noted that since the complaint was introduced by Mr. Stefanovich on March 27, 2012, Judge Alena Siamak from the Tsentralny District Court continuously postponed the hearing: it took more than four months to set a date for the consideration of the case he brought against the travel restrictions imposed on him. Mr. Stefanovich further challenged such delay in the proceedings on the basis of Article 337.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which requires the court to consider civil cases within a month following the submission of a lawsuit.

The Observatory welcomes the official lift of the travel ban against Mr. Valentin Stefanovich, but remains extremely concerned about the ongoing harassment against human rights defenders in Belarus.

For further information, please contact:

· Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

· OMCT: Isabelle Scherer: + 41 22 809 49 39

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