Santa Claus Beaten up by Belarus Police

One Santa, 14 Snow Maidens, and 5 New Year’s Bunnies marched in downtown Minsk Dec. 22 protesting restrictions on the public activities of unregistered organizations. The group hoped to register a petition to the Parliament asking to abolish Article 193.1 of Belarus’ Criminal Code. The petition had to be left in the Parliament’s mailbox instead.

Two days later, police had beaten up an opposition Santa on the stairs of the Belarusian Parliament. Dressed as Santa was a former MP Valery Shchukin, who was trying to attract public attention to Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

Article 193.1 allows punishing the “illegal organization or activities of public associations, religious groups or foundations or participation in their activities” with fines and six months to two years in prison. Allowing the authorities to harass and stop activities of unregistered NGOs at any time, the article violates the right to association and prevents the development of the civil society in Belarus. The article was introduced into the Belarusian Criminal Code in 2005.

A similar petition was delivered during a public action to Belarus’ prosecutor-general in November. On Oct. 15, 2009, a number of “Santas” went to the General Prosecutor’s Office in Minsk and handed in a declaration, in which they admitted to being a part of an unregistered Santa Claus organization and to participating in unsanctioned Santa Claus activities.

Article 193.1 contradicts provisions set out in Article 20 and 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Labor Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize. It also contradicts the Belarusian Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of association. Belarus is the only post-Soviet state where the activity of unregistered organizations is criminalized.

Seventeen persons have been convicted under the article since it came into force in 2006. Many Belarusian NGOs lost their official registrations in recent years. New organizations have been denied official registration many times for ungrounded reasons. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee is the sole remaining independent human rights organization in Belarus.

Read more about this topic at Radio Free Liberty. A more detailed story appeared in Russian in Kommersant.

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