Prominent Belarus Activist Arrested – Civil Society & Politics Digest
The news of the week is yesterday's arrest of a prominent Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatsky. The arrest reportedly followed release of information by Lithuanian Ministry of Justice to Belarus authorities about around 400 bank accounts of Belarusian opposition activists, groups and NGOs.
Rights activist Ales Bialiatsky is in custody. On the evening of 4 August, Ales Bialiatsky, Head of Human Rights Center Viasna, was taken into custody after interrogation in the Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee. Bialiatsky is detained for three days as a suspect in the case under Article 243-2 of the Criminal Code (evasion of taxes and fees on a large scale). The maximum penalty for this article stipulates imprisonment for up to seven years with confiscation of property.
On 4 August, there were searches on the Viasna premises, Bialiatsky’s private apartment and cottage. A part of property located in the office premises was arrested. On 5 August, International Center for Civil Initiatives Nash Dom (a leader is Olga Karach) and the NGO Assembly distributed their statements expressing strong protest against the detention of Ales Bialiatsky. Such statement is prepared by the National platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum. On 4 August, Chairman of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek called on Belarusian authorities to release a prominent human rights activist.
Viasna was known for their help to political prisoners and for providing financial support to those in Belarus who were thrown out of jobs and universities for political reasons.
Lithuania's reaction. On 5 August, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, expressed deep concern over the the continued worsening of the human rights situation in Belarus, citing the arrest of Ales Bialiatski.
At the same Lithuania's Minister of Justice Tomas Vaitkevicius confirmed that his country released information to Belarusian authorities about financial transactions of Belarusian activists and groups registered in Lithuania. Minsk is just three hours by train from Vilnius. Many independent and opposition organisations have to register in Lithuania because it is impossible to do so in Belarus. According to the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice, they did not expect that the information that contained the name of Ales Byalyatski could be used for political purposes.
International community against the "draconian law". Amnesty International calls to abandon the "draconian law", which provides punishment for the mass "pre-defined action or inaction". The Bill was introduced for the Belarusian House of Representatives on 20 July. On 2 August Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), expressed concern about a proposal by the Belarusian Council of Ministers to introduce further restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.
Ministry of Justice doesn’t pursue advocates but demands explanations from BHC. The Ministry of Justice has no plans to deny the license of lawyers Anna Bakhtina and Daria Lipkina, advocates of political prisoners. In this regard, on 3 August the Ministry of Justice demanded explanations from Belarusian Helsinki Committee for the “facts of defamatory information”. The matter of fact is that BHC distributed information about the pressure on lawyers and signed a petition to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
Nasha Niva was fined. On 29 July, Economic Court of Minsk fined the newspaper Nasha Niva to Br14 million ($2 800) under administrative Article 22.9-3 (violation of a mass media law repeated within one year). This is the first time that the administrative case against the media was initiated by the police through the Ministry of Information.
Picket in Dashkevich’s support. On 2 August a picket was held near the colony in Gorki, where Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of youth group Young Front, is in prison. Youth activists and politicians demanded that the prison administration permitted to meet Dashkevich with a lawyer. As a result, 14 people were arrested. The next day one person was fined to Br1.05 million ($200), the rest are convicted to administrative detention from 5 to 17 days, includingone journalist and Nasta Palazhanka, Young Front deputy head and Dashkevich’s bride. By the way, the picket was held on the day of Palazhanka 21-year birthday.
Platform defends rights of prisoners. On 1 August a former prisoner of Glubokskaya colony No.13 and the mothers of two current prisoners organized a press conference and spoke about beatings and other forms of lawlessness there. Conference organizer is informational educational institution Platform (director is Andrey Bandarenka), which deals with issues of law compliance in Belarusian prisons.
The campaign "Tell the truth!" re-runs. On 3 August, at a press conference in Minsk the leader of the campaign "Tell the truth!" Vladimir Neklyayev stated that they started collecting signatures for three new draft laws. Their legislative initiatives are "We will not allow government officials to steal", " We will not allow to sell out the country" and "Protect from poverty ourselves and our children". The campaign plans to collect 50 thousand signatures for each bill before September 25.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. Politics & Civil Society Digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. The digests often go beyond the hot stories already available in other English-language media.
Rethinking Belarus After 20 Years of Independence
On 23 September 2011 the first annual congress of Belarusian social science scholars will begin in Lithuania. It will bring together a wide spectrum of political scientists, historians, sociologists and experts from other disciplines. Belarus Digest is the event's partner. We interviewed Andrei Kazakevich – who chairs the organizing committee of the first International Congress of Belarusian Studies.
BD: Why do you organise this Congress and why outside Belarus?
Initially, we planned to organize an annual event only for political scientists. But then we found out that there were no regular social science conferences for Belarusian social science scholars. In the past, there were similar conferences on Belarusian philology and linguistics. But political scientists, sociologists, philosophers, historians and representatives of other disciplines do not have any regular congresses. We decided to broaden the congress concept and to offer space for public and professional communication to all scientists engaged in Belarusian studies. political science, history, sociology and history of ideas will constitute the core of the Congress.
The event will be held in Lithuania because it was impossible to find an academic institution in Belarus, which would be willing to host such event without considerable organisational and ideological obstacles. We did not want to have any restrictions of topics and participants. The only way was to look for partners abroad.
Vitautas Magnus University In Kaunas agreed to become the main academic partner of the congress. Kaunas is home to a number of scholars interested in Belarusian studies. In addition, the location is convenient for many participants.
BD: What were other challenges you faced?
Formulating the main idea of the congress was challenging. We wanted to bring together as broad community of specialists as possible. Last year we also tried to establish connections with the Belarusian National Academy of Science and other state-controlled academic institutions. Prior to 19 December we had promising discussions. But after the presidential elections it all stopped. As a result, we will not have a full-scale cooperation with state institutions, which could facilitate better communication between researchers. However, there will be researchers from state institutions in their individual capacity.
BD: Is there enough interest in the event?
Initially we wanted to attract around 100-130 scientists, experts and analysts. But following the announcement the interest was much greater. Currently we have over 230 applications. The largest number of participants comes from the following countries – Belarus, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Lithuania and United Kingdom. Other countries also have representatives. We even have applicants from rather exotic countries for Belarusian studies such as Japan and Turkey.
BD: Would you be able to accommodate all interested to participate?
We have not decided what to do with such a high interest. Nearly all people are established researchers, almost no students. We have very limited financial resources and currently looking for additional support to accommodate all participants. Unfortunately, income of Belarusian scholars have doped dramatically as a result of economic crisis and it became much more difficult for them to cover travel and accommodation expenses.
BD: What do you expect as the main outcome of the event?
The main goal of the Congress is to create a platform for wide communication between social scientists and experts, to improve their regional and European engagement, to increase professional mobility. The target group is Belarusian research community in the wider sense – inside and outside of Belarus. People will be able to present their projects, to meet each other, to discuss new ideas and initiate joint projects.
The deadline to submit materials for presentation had already passed. Preliminary program of the Congress will be available on the Congress web site in late August. Those who want to participate in the congress without making a presentation should contact the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org to register. We do not charge any fee on participants.
We hope to welcome many of Belarus Digest readers at the Congress in September.