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  • What Belarus and Brussels Discuss in Human Rights

    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.

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