Belarus: Contravenes International Covenant for arbitrary arrest of participant in unauthorised political meeting

28.04.2016

The Human Rights Committee finds Belarus in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in connection with the arrest and detention of a participant in an unauthorised political meeting.

Bakur v. Belarus (1902/2009)
Background

At 3pm on 19 August 2007, the author, Mr Yuriy Bakur, participated in a public meeting of the political party the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) in Brest. The meeting was held in the same building as BNF’s offices. The purpose of the meeting was to interview a well-known journalist, publicist and civil activist, Pavel Severints, and to discuss his new book. At around 4pm, police officers entered the premises, stopping the meeting and apprehending 28 persons, including the author. The author was subsequently charged with the administrative offence of participating in an unauthorised meeting. The author was released later that day at 11pm, without being provided with any documents proving his detention. Other participants in the meeting were released immediately without charge.

On 31 August 2007, the author’s case was heard by the Moscow District Court in Brest. On 4 September 2007, the court ordered him to pay a fine of 93,000 Belarus rubles for breach of the Law on Mass Events of 30 December 1997.

On 13 September 2007, the author appealed the decision before the Brest Regional Court, which upheld the decision of the first instance court on 4 October 2007.

On 3 April 2008, the author appealed to the President of the Supreme Court under the supervisory review procedure. The author’s appeal was rejected on 21 May 2008.

On 9 July 2008, the author filed this communication with the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. He claimed that Belarus had breached his rights to: (i) freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, (ii) freedom from arbitrary detention, (iii) a fair trial, (iv) freedom of expression, and (v) peaceful assembly (under articles 7, 9, 14, 19, and 21 of the Covenant, respectively).

The Committee’s decision  

With respect to admissibility, the Committee found that the author’s claims under articles 7 and 14 of the Covenant were inadmissible for lack of sufficient substantiation.  However, the Committee found that the author had sufficiently substantiated his remaining claims under articles 9, 19 and 21 and declared those claims to be admissible.

On the merits, the Committee noted that Belarus had not refuted the author’s claim that his arrest and detention had not been recorded. The Committee recalled that an arrest or detention may nonetheless be arbitrary despite being authorised by domestic law. The Committee observed that Belarus had failed to demonstrate that the grounds for the author’s apprehension, namely participation in a meeting held by a political party in private premises, were lawful, necessary and proportionate for the purposes of article 9 of the Covenant.

The Committee recalled that articles 19 and 21 of the Covenant allowed certain restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but only as provided by law and necessary: (i) for respect of the rights or reputation of others; or (ii) for the protection of national security, public order or public health or morals. Any restrictions on the exercise of the rights under article 19 must also conform to the strict test of necessity and proportionality and must be directly related to the specific need on which they are predicated. The Committee observed that Belarus had failed to demonstrate that apprehending and fining the author, even if based on law, was necessary for one of the legitimate purposes under article 19 of the Covenant. Similarly, when a State party imposes restrictions with the aim of reconciling an individual’s right to assembly under article 21, it should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than imposing unnecessary or disproportionate limitations on it. Belarus had failed to justify why an authorisation was needed to hold a meeting in a private space rented by the political party.

In view of the above, the Committee concluded that Belarus had violated articles 9, 19(2) and 21 of the Covenant in its treatment of the author.

In accordance with article 2(3) of the Covenant, the Committee found that Belarus was under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy, including by providing the author with adequate compensation and reimbursing the amount of the fine and any legal costs incurred by the author. Belarus was also under the obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future, including by reviewing its legislation and in particular the Law on Mass Events of 30 December 1997.

Belarus must now submit its written response within six months of the Committee’s decision, including information on the action taken in the light of the Committee’s recommendations, and ensure that the Committee’s decision is published widely.

Sam Hunter Jones is an international lawyer, based in London. 

Category:

Region
  • Europe
Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • United Nations
Mechanism
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
Country
  • Belarus