GENEVA (14 March 2017) – Belarus is being urged by a UN human rights expert* to stop acts of violence and harassment against demonstrators and to respect freedom of peaceful assembly.
The appeal comes from the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, and follows reports of mass arrests and intimidation of activists protesting against the presidential decree “On the Prevention of Social Dependence”, also referred to as the “anti-parasitism” law.
The order by President Lukashenko allows fines to be imposed on anyone who does not work more than 183 days and is not declared officially unemployed. As implementation began last month, thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in protest.
Mr. Haraszti described the decree as “an arbitrary and cruel measure”, estimated to affect more than 470,000 Belarusians. “These people are not only singled out and stamped as ‘society’s parasites’, but they are subjected to substantial fines amounting to the equivalent of USD250, or about two thirds of the average monthly wage in Belarus.”
Following demonstrations held for several weeks in many parts of the country, the President has reportedly suspended the collection of the fines for this year. However, he also stressed that he does not rescind the decree. Additionally, he has vowed that there will be a “tough reaction” against organizers of dissent, and instructed his interior minister to ensure “perfect order” in the country.
Mr. Haraszti said: “I am closely following the situation, as there are credible reports of arrest of at least 70 individuals who were peacefully demonstrating against the decree, as well as of 18 journalists who were covering the events”.
“I am particularly vigilant because of the Government’s well-known history of over-reacting to public discord. Demonstrations in 2010 were responded to by massive violence and arbitrary arrests, which at that time prompted the international community to create the mandate I have been holding for five years now.
“The recurring pattern in the authorities’ violent response makes the situation volatile enough for it to degenerate. The danger of escalation has already partly materialized as several opposition leaders, Anatol Liabedzka and Vital Rymasheuski in particular, have been sentenced to detention for two weeks”, Haraszti stressed.
“While the international community should remain attentive, I call on the authorities of Belarus to stop acts of violence and harassment, and to respect the freedom to peacefully assemble”, Mr. Haraszti concluded.
* This statement has been endorsed by the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai as well as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst.
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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