Pervasive harassment of civil society continues in Belarus – UN Special Rapporteur

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, reported on Tuesday to the UN General Assembly that NGOs and human rights defenders continue to endure extreme political pressure in the country, and that civic activities outside the official framework are criminalized.

“In the past two decades, there has been a pattern of mass-scale pressure and harassment against civil society actors in Belarus involving recurring violence, in particular during or in the immediate aftermath of elections,” Mr. Haraszti warned during the presentation of his new report on the state of civil rights in the country.

He noted that, despite some recent positive amendments to the law on public associations and on political parties, the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression remain severely restricted.

Mr. Haraszti describes how the framework hampering civil society activism is propped up by an overly restrictive permission-based system of registration, the selective denial of registration, and the criminalisation of activities of unregistered associations. NGOs are also denied the right to receive direct funding from foreign sources and unauthorized foreign funding is criminalised.

“Also, rights activists, including LGBT defenders, have to endure constant intimidation and political pressure from the authorities. They are subjected to excessive and arbitrary administrative inspections, charged with minor administrative transgressions such as ‘public swearing’ or ‘hooliganism’, and publicly discredited by the State-run media,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur noted a recent increase of repeated short-term arbitrary detentions. As an example, he named Pavel Vinahradau, a youth NGO activist who was arrested on 13 October, for the fifteenth time. Over the course of this year, he has spent until now altogether sixty days in prison.

While welcoming the release of Ales Bialiatski, leader of the Viasna human rights organization (which continues to be denied registration), the Special Rapporteur called for the immediate and unconditional release and rehabilitation of all political, including the former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich.

The UN Human Rights Council restored the position of the Council’s rapporteur on Belarus in July 2012, much to the displeasure of the Belarusian government. Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian politician, was appointed special rapporteur on Belarus. He has only been able to meet with representatives of Belarus’ civil society, as Minsk does not recognize the mandate of the special rapporteur on Belarus and denies him an entry visa., following

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