COPENHAGEN, 4 June 2021 – Expressing deep concern over the potential ramifications of amendments adopted by the Belarusian Parliament on 24 May, which they said would further criminalize mass events and journalistic activity in Belarus, the leaders of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s human rights committee today called for the legislation’s repeal and for heightened international attention to the situation in the country.
Kyriakos Hadjiyianni (Cyprus), Michael Georg Link (Germany) and Kari Henriksen (Norway) – the Chair, Vice-Chair and Rapporteur, respectively, of the OSCE PA’s General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions – issued the following joint statement:
“We very much regret that the amendments to the laws on mass events have been adopted, threatening to further undermine the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of the media. Making authorization requirements more stringent for mass events, the legislation also affects the right of media to cover them, banning live reporting from unauthorized demonstrations and providing authorities legal justification to arrest journalists for doing their jobs.”
Hadjiyianni, Link and Henriksen added: “We call on authorities in Belarus to rethink their general approach to dissent in the country, end their repressive tactics, release all political prisoners, engage with the opposition, and allow the holding of free and fair elections with observers from the OSCE. In the spirit of open dialogue, we are happy to meet with members of the Belarusian Delegation to discuss these matters further.”
According to the amendments, political parties and public associations will now be considered responsible for calls to organize mass events if they are made by their leaders before receiving official authorization for these events. The amendments also provide for the ban of fundraising activities and the use of any funds or assets received to counter the cost of prosecution for violations to the laws on mass events.
Journalists are prohibited from live reporting and live streaming of unauthorized demonstrations, and may now be stripped of their special status as members of the press at mass events.
On 13 April, Hadjiyianni, Link and Henriksen addressed a letter on this matter to Chair of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Natalya Kochanova and Vladimir Andreichenko, Chair of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. The letter urged the parliamentarians to reconsider the proposed restrictions and to ensure that the country’s legislation is in full compliance with international human rights commitments. The letter further suggested seeking a review of the draft legislation by ODIHR experts before taking any further steps.
So far, there has been no response to the letter from the Belarusian side.