NEW YORK (25 October 2018) – A crackdown on free speech is the latest worrying development amid the deteriorating, “wholescale oppression” of human rights in Belarus, an independent expert has told the UN General Assembly.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, referred to the “sad fate of freedom of expression” specifically pointing to legal amendments ending anonymity of publications in online media and forcing state registration of all online platforms.
Haraszti, who was concluding his six-year tenure, said human rights abuses that had prompted international scrutiny when he took up his role were worsening in important areas.
“The online restrictions close down the last public space where free speech was relatively possible, given the practically total control over speech in the mostly state-owned offline media. The amendments introduce chilling financial liabilities, blocking, or de-licensing without any judicial oversight,” Haraszti said.
“Given the impossibility of complete content control over the internet, the new regulations are bound to be exercised in an arbitrary, selective, and politicised manner, with the aim of intimidating those who would express critical views and expose abuses.
“Meanwhile, remaining are all the infamous systemic violations that the Human Rights Council deplored when founding the mandate in 2012,” Haraszti said.
“The entrenched oppressive legal system is backed-up through cyclically recurring violent mass crackdowns and frequent incarceration of political opponents on bogus criminal charges, as if reminding the growing up new generations of the status quo.”
The Special Rapporteur said the absence of free elections and of pluralism in political life had not been changed by the “cosmetic measure of selecting two token opposition candidates to enter parliament in 2016”.
“The right to peaceful assembly and to free association continues to be denied through the permission-based registration system and the criminalisation of participation in unsanctioned public activities,” Haraszti said.
Belarus was the only country in Europe and in the former Soviet Union to deny the right to life and to apply the death penalty, he said. “It is especially regrettable that the government disregards the interim measures ordered by the Human Rights Committee which are meant to help restore due process in those death penalty cases.”
The Special Rapporteur said progress was being hampered by lack of political will. While one of the two opposition members in Parliament recently drafted a bill to combat domestic violence, President Alexander Lukashenko had called it “nonsense from the West”, adding that “a good beating with a belt is sometimes useful for a child”.
Haraszti paid tribute to the “courageous women and men who continue to ask for their basic human rights contained in the 70-years old Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
Mr. Miklós Haraszti (Hungary) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. In the 70s, Mr. Haraszti was a founder of Hungary’s human rights and free press movement, and in the 1990s he was a Member of the Hungarian Parliament. From 2004 to 2010, he served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Since 2010, he has been a Professor at several universities teaching media democratisation.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus
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