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What Belarus and Brussels Discuss in Human Rights

21.07.2017 Source: Press service of BAJ

On July 20, another round of the dialogue on human rights took place in Brussels with the participation of official representatives and civil society. BAJ chairperson Andrei Bastunets told press service of BAJ what issues had been raised.

“The meeting of Belarus and EU representatives lasted all day; representatives of civil society were able to speak at one session which lasted two hours,” says Andrei Bastunets.

At the session, three issues were raised: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and associations, defense of vulnerable groups of population and gender equality.

“We discussed changes that have or have not taken place since the last coordination meeting between Belarus and the EU in April. EU representatives were well familiar with the figures of BAJ monitoring service. I spoke about two levels of problems we are facing now. The first one is detentions of journalists, fines for cooperation with foreign mass media. Indeed, journalists have not been detained any longer after the protest actions [in March].  However, the court rulings have not been reviewed; cassation appeals have been dismissed even in the most obvious cases, like Aliaksandr Barazenka’s arrest. Although the process of detention was recorded live – how he was recording, how he introduced, how he was accompanied to the police van – the judges found it better to ignore it as evidence.

Certainly, I told about the new administrative case against Aliaksandr – this time about violation of trademark copyright. I do not know how this “violation” is going to be proved in court, as the journalist does not use the trademark anyhow in the points that are incriminated to him. However, after the March events I do not feel optimistic about how the case will be handled.

I again underlined the absurdity of the situation when Belarusian journalists are called to be foreign ones and required to apply for accreditation – meanwhile they cannot get it according to law at all as accreditation is granted only to journalists of mass media, and not to freelancers. Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code had not been applied for almost a year – from April 2016 to March 2017. But then the authorities resumed the earlier practice. Moreover, they expanded it. Now the article is applied against bloggers who post their video on social nets. Such incidents took place in Orsha and in Homel.

I could not help mentioning the criminal case against the Belarusian columnists for Russian outlets like Regnum. They have been in prison for over 7 months, the case has not moved from the dead point. Though I do not share their point of view, even oppose it, I thing that restriction of freedom for speaking out one’s view, be it unpleasant or shocking, - if it does not have incitement for violence – this is a disproportionate measure.

All these problems lie on the surface. They are easy to solve, it requires only political will. Which is proved by the situation with subscription in Belposhta and Sayuzdruk when the newspapers who had been denied service for “disputes of economy subjects”, but the disputes turned out to be easily soluble.”

“Of course, fundamental problems – legislation in the sphere of freedom of expression and the government’s view of the role and tasks of the media – cannot be solved that easily. But the way starts with the first step. And solving these first-level problems, which I mentioned above, can indicate that the dialogue between Belarus and the EU is maintained not for its own sake, but for the movement towards democratic independent state based on the rule of law.”

According to the EU External Action press release, the EU delegation was led by Thomas Mayr-Harting, Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and included representatives of the EEAS and the European Commission. The Belarusian delegation was led by Oleg Kravchenko, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus and included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice. Representatives of European Union Member States observed the talks. Representatives of Belarusian civil society and non-governmental organisations actively participated in parts of the dialogue.

The next meeting within the Human Rights Dialogue is expected in 2018.