Independent Pollsters Will be Prosecuted – Belarus Politics Digest

Fines for unsanctioned polls. The House of Representatives approved in the first reading a bill of amendments, which would establish administrative liability for non-licensed public opinion surveys. The fine would in particular be established for “illegal” polls asking people about their opinion about political situation the country, a national referendum, or parliamentary and presidential elections. It would equal 20 base rates (about $240) for individuals and up to 100 base rates (about $1,200) for legal entities.

New IISEPS survey. In June, the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) conducted a survey of public opinion on major issues of life of Belarusians. In particular, the experts observe stabilization of the "economic health" of Belarusians, but also an increasing number of people who believe that Belarus needs changes (77.3%). Also, Alexander Lukashenka's electoral rating has dropped to 29.7% compared to March (34.5%).

Council of the Republic adopted the draft law on KGB. On June 22, the upper house of Parliament adopted the draft law "On the State Security Bodies of Belarus". The law establishes the basic tasks, activities of state security, the responsibilities of the president and government in the field of the state security. The bill defines the conditions and limits of the security organs with regards to physical force, special equipment, weapons and military equipment.

Art-Siadziba ousted. Pavel Belavus, the Art-siadziba director, was summoned by the premises owner (the administration of the Horizont plant) that they must leave the office by July 23 and that their contract that had to expire at the end of October has been cancelled. The reason for it was the fact that they violated fire safety and numerous other regulations.

Amnesty International declares Pochobut prisoner of conscience but he is released shortly. In a statement on June 26, Amnesty International has declared Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. On June 30, Andrey Pochobut was released from the Grodno prison under travel ban. 

Opinion of animal defenders taken into account. The claims of CSOs involved in animal protection, as well as ordinary citizens were taken into account and the draft law "On the treatment of animals" was sent back for revision. It was reported by the internet community "Right to Life."

Uruccha protesters dispersed by police. Leanid Mazhalski, one of the leaders of a group of people protesting against a infill construction in Uruccha city district was detained in Minsk on July 5. The hearings in court are scheduled for July 17. It should be noted that inhabitants of Minsk protested against the construction of six blocks of flats for riot policemen in the district. The construction works are going on in spite of their protests.

National Gender Policy Council’s structure approved. The Council of Ministers approved internal regulations of the National Council for Gender Policy. Along with numerous government officials, the Council will include representatives of at least three women CSOs: Gender Perspectives, Young Christian Women Association and Women’s Independent Democratic Movement.  

The draft law on state social contracting adopted by the Parliament. On June 27, the House of Representatives adopted the amendments to some laws on social service. One of the most important parts of the bill is introduction of the mechanism of social contracting that allows nonprofit organizations to get funding from the state budget.

Deputy Minister participated in the CSO training. On June 26-27, NGO "ACT" together with Mogilev oblast executive committee held a training on "Social contracting basics" for Mogilev officials. Among the speakers there were the deputy chairman of the Mogilev Regional Executive Committee Valery Malashko, as well as Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Alexander Rumak.

International 

EU creates pro-democracy fund. On June 25, EU member states agreed to create a European endowment for democracy aimed to encourage "deep and sustainable" change in societies struggling under oppressive regimes, EU observer informs. The fund should become operational by next year and will primarily target EU neighbouring countries such as Belarus, where people are routinely jailed for showing opposition to President Alexander Lukashenka.

PACE committee statement on Belarus. The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in a statement on June 26, urged the Belarusian authorities to "open up political space" ahead of September's parliamentary elections. The statement called on the Belarusian leadership to promote a democratic and fair parliamentary campaign and to ensure freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as political rights for all opposition movements.

Ashton calls on authorities to stop harassment of opponents. In a statement on June 29, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on the authorities in Belarus to stop the harassment of the opposition, media and civil society, expressing deep concern at a number of recent incidents.

Worst of the Worst 2012. A new Freedom House report "Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies" highlights those countries that earned the lowest possible scores (Worst of the Worst) or fell just short of the bottom scores (On the Threshold) in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties. Belarus was deemed to be “On the Threshold” together with Burma, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and Libya.

Linas Linkevicius appointed as Lithuanian new ambassador to BelarusLinas Linkevicius, a former Lithuanian defense minister, has been appointed as the Baltic state's new ambassador to Belarus, said a spokesperson for the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk on July 5.

UN appointed a special rapporteur on Belarus. On July 5, the United Nations' Human Rights Council adopted a resolution and  agreed to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor the situation of human rights in Belarus and to make recommendations for its improvement. The 47-nation council voted to create the post, as proposed by the European Union, by 22 votes to 5, with 20 abstentions. Belarus does not recognize the mandate of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Belarus and will not cooperate with him, the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus said.

Belarusian envoy speaks against the appointment of rapporteur on Belarus at UN Human Rights Council. Mikhail Khvastow, Belarus' permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva, said on June 28 during a session of the UN Human Rights Council that there was no need for the appointment of a special rapporteur on Belarus.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.




Politics & Civil Society Digest: Coping with the New Forms of Protests

Belarus authorities continue their crackdown against all new forms of protests.  Initially security services were unprepared to actions such as Stop Petrol or Social Networks Revolution. But subsequently they found ways, often illegal even under Belarusian law, to prevent and disperse the protests.

The authorities tolerate neither single person pickets nor car owners protests fearing that they could develop into serious threats for them. The civil society and NGO activities remain low due to the summer season and the general decline after the crackdown which followed the December presidential elections.

POLITICS DIGEST

Single picket. On July 19 a single person picket "against homophobia of authorities" was held near Minsk city executive committee. The only participant Natallia Pradzed, a LGBT activist, who held a poster with the word "ШОС" , was arrested and later sentenced to 10 days in jail. "ШОС" is an ambiguous anti-government abbreviation which usually stands for "let him die" or "let him go to jail".

Traffic police held "Stop Petrol". On July 21 when fuel prices increased by 3%, car owners planned to hold a new protest "Stop Petrol" action. The initiator and coordinator of the previous actions Artiom Sharkov told that his organization had nothing to do with the current action. On the evening of July 21 the traffic police themselves blocked the central avenue. During the action 4 people were detained, but after drawing up reports for improper parking they were released.

Sentences against December 19 protesters upheld. On July 19 Minsk City Court upheld the sentences of ex-presidential candidates Mikalai Statkevich and Dzmitry Us, as well as five other participants of the events of 19 December 2010. On July 19 a similar decision was taken by Minsk City Court on the complaints of journalist Iryna Khalip, Paval Seviarynets (chief of Rymasheuski’s campaign staff) and Siarhei Martseleu (chief of Statkevich’s campaign staff). On July 22 Minsk City Court upheld the sentences against ex-presidential candidate Vladimir Nyaklyaev and the chief of his campaign staff Andrei Dmitriev.

"Revolution through social networks" actions on July 27 were very few and almost invisible. Perhaps “Revolution” has ended in its format of mass silent protests on the city central squares.  As before the authorities were well prepared for the actions: on July 27 access to social networks "VKontakte" was blocked in Belarus; men in uniform and in civilian clothes ("тихари") were placed at possible places of actions; buses without registration plates were fitted; security agents filmed the participants.

Ministry of Justice against advocates. Lawyers of political prisoners Iryna Khalip and Mikita Likhavid – Anna Bakhtina and Daria Lipkina – failed to pass qualification of the Ministry of Justice. This means that they may be denied a license to practice law.

Law suits to close down  Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya dropped. The Ministry of Information withdrew from the Supreme Economic Court of Belarus suits of discontinuance of newspapers Nasha Niva (on July 12) and Narodnaya Volya (on July 13). The official decision was made "taking into account the possibility of amicable settlement of the situation and based on the principle of the media freedom".

CIVIL SOCIETY DIGEST

Official statistics. In the first half of 2011 Ministry of Justice and its departments have registered 51 new NGOs (6 national and 45 local), 11 new funds (1 international, 1 national and 9 local), 1 trade union and 1 association. Thus, according to July 1, 2011 in Belarus there are 15 political parties and 985 party organizations, 36 trade unions and 22 856 trade union organizations, 2359 NGOs (including 230 international, 682 national and 1447 local), 26 unions (associations ) of NGOs, 109 foundations (10 international, 5 national, and 94 local).

Europe allocates Belarus 2.4 million euros. This statement was made in Minsk, by program coordinator of EU assistance Stanislav Topolnitsky. Funding is available in the form of grants, aimed at maintaining civil society in Belarus. This was announced on July 27 at the information meeting under the program "Non-state actors and Local authorities". This year, EU has increased twice its support for Belarus.

List of Belarusian NGOs invited to participate in the EaP Civil Society Forum in Poznań. On July 14-16, in Brussels, the Steering Committee of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership selected participants in the 3rd Forum in Poznań. 24 Belarusian NGOs were invited. By the way, there is no regional NGO in the list.

The state social contracting competition announced in Homel oblast’. Executive Committees in Zhlobin, Rechytsa and Svetlahorsk announced a competition for nonprofit organizations on HIV issues. Funding for projects will be at the expense of the local budget and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is another step made by NGO ACT to implement the mechanism of support of Belarusian NGOs’ from the state budget.

People Program. The movement For Freedom launched a new public initiative “People Program". The project's goal is to develop a new positive vision for the future of Belarus.The Initiative announced small grants competition "People Program in Action" to promote public debate in Belarusian regions. The competition is open for regional and local NGOs, media, including non-registered groups.

Trade union group "Studentskaya Rada" asked the one hundred students of 5 Minsk different universities the challenges students meet during their learning and how they protect their students' rights. The most "mass" student problem is a lack of textbooks in the libraries (63% of respondents); on then second place there is a problem of inconvenient scheduling (56%). The problems associated with the rights of students are interested only for 15% of respondents.


Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.