Annual Report: Belarus 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Belarus 2011

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  • On 3 September Aleh Byabenin, the editor and founder of the unofficial news website Charter '97, was found dead, suspended from the banisters of his dacha with a rope around his neck. On 4 September, the initial conclusions of a forensic medical examination were announced, which found that the most likely cause of death was suicide. However, colleagues and family members questioned the official verdict, pointing out a number of inconsistencies about the way his body was found, the fact that he had been targeted by the authorities in the past, and that shortly before his death he had joined the campaign team of Andrei Sannikau, an opposition presidential candidate.

On 1 July, Presidential Decree No. 60 "On measures to improve the use of the national segment of the internet" came into effect. The decree requires among other things that internet service providers check the identity of subscribers in person, and make information about subscribers available to the authorities; and measures have been introduced to limit access to information that could be classed as extremist, pornographic, or that promotes violence and other illegal acts. According to a study commissioned by the OSCE, these measures "lead to unsubstantiated restrictions of a citizen's right to receive and disseminate information", and give the authorities extremely broad powers to limit access to certain sources of information.

Freedom of assembly

The restrictive "Law on Mass Actions" continued to limit freedom of assembly and expression. The law requires demonstrators to apply for permission to the local authorities and stipulates that public events cannot take place within 200m of underground stations and pedestrian crossings. It also requires organizers to take responsibility for public safety measures, as well as measures connected with medical services and cleaning up after the action, all of which they need to finance. As a result of these provisions, many applications were turned down.

  • On 8 May, the Minsk City Executive Committee refused permission for a march to celebrate Slavic Pride on 15 May because the proposed route was within 200m of underground stations and pedestrian crossings. A group of demonstrators organized a march on 15 May regardless of the ban. Eight of the demonstrators were detained over the weekend and five of them were charged with taking part in an unauthorized demonstration and fined.
  • A mainly peaceful demonstration after the presidential elections on 19 December was violently dispersed by riot police and over 700 people were charged with administrative offences and detained for 10 to 15 days. They were arbitrarily detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and many demonstrators were subjected to disproportionate force by law enforcement officers.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In August, Belarus submitted its fourth periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture. The report rejected the recommendation made by the Committee in 2000 to introduce a definition of torture into the Criminal Code in accordance with the definition in the UN Convention against Torture, and claimed that all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were examined by prosecutors. However, according to a shadow report submitted by NGOs in December, complaints to the Prosecutor's Office rarely led to criminal investigations for torture and were usually subject to a superficial investigation which did not extend beyond interviewing the police officers alleged to be the perpetrators.