Re: Belarus – Belarusian Helsinki Committee receives a warning after sending a communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

The Belarusian Ministry of Justice has sent an official written warning  to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), the oldest human rights group in Belarus, for ''the diffusion of false information that discredits law enforcement bodies and judicial institutions of the Republic''.

The BHC recently sent a communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Gabriela Knaul, detailing violations of the rights to legal assistance of individuals arrested, accused and convicted following participation in the protest rally in Minsk on 19 December 2010 as well as pressure on their lawyers.

On 12 January 2011, information concerning the communications sent by the BHC to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers was published on the BHC's website. A few hours later, the head of Departement of non-commercial organisations of the Ministry of Justice, Mr A. Kirychenka, reportedly sent a fax to the BHC ordering them to provide him with the text of the communication within 30 minutes. The same day, the Ministry of Justice stated that it ''considers the information the BHC sent to international organisations as non-objectively relating the work of State institutions and law enforcement agencies that maintain stability and rule of law in the Republic and intentionally distorting the real situation in the country and as an attempt to discredit the Republic of Belarus before the international community'' and issued a warning to the BHC for ”violation of the legislation on NGOs and mass media, diffusion of unreliable information disrediting the law enforcement agencies and judicial institutions of the Republic, and violations of its own Statute”.

Under the pretext of confidentiality of investigations, Belarusian lawyers have been forbidden from revealing grave violations of the rights of their clients, their state of health in detention, and the fact that some of them have been able to meet with clients only once since 19 December – and have been unable to meet their clients in private at all. On 5 January 2011, the Ministry of Justice issued a warning to the lawyers of two opposition Presidential candidates imprisoned since 19 December, for denouncing alleged violations of their clients' rights and those of other individuals before the media. The BHC's communication also mentions several cases of intimidation against lawyers who are afraid to lose their State licences should other violations become public.

On 29 December 2010, the Ministry of Justice published information accusing some lawyers of misusing their professional role by ”presenting information about the investigation, their clients' opportunities   to avail of legal assistance, their clients’ health status and prison conditions, and the work of law enforcement bodies of the country in a biased manner”.

The Belarusian Helsinki Commitee is one of very few Belarusian organisations which has not lost its registration with the Ministry of Justice and Front Line fears that the present warning may lead to its closure. According to Article 28 of the Law On NGOs, activities of an organisation which receives an official warning can be suspended for a term of 1 to 6 months by a court decision based on an appeal from the Ministry of Justice, if the organisation does not redress the violation mentioned in the warning within 1 month. If an organisation is found guilty of violating laws or its statutes within one year of the date of the previous warning, it can be officially closed down.

Front Line believes that the warning issued against the BHC is a direct reprisal for their legitimate exercise of the right to make complaints before international human rights bodies. Furthermore, Front Line believes that these measures form part of  a campaign of repression against Belarusian civil society following the Presidential Elections.

Front Line urges the Belarusian authorities to:

Immediately withdraw the warning sent to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and refrain from taking any legal or administrative action against them, as it is believed that these measures are a direct result of their legitimate activities in defence of human rights;
Guarantee in all circumstances the right of all individuals and organisations in Belarus to make contact with all intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, as provided for by international human rights norms and standards;
Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Belarus are able to carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Source: Front Line

© 2010 Международное Молодежное Правозащитное Движение