Viasna challenges the dictatorship

The Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna has been working in secret since 2003. After three attempts to register the activists are fed up and are now publicly announcing their activities, which are classified as illegal in Belarus. Three representatives of Viasna; Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovitj and Uladzimir Labkovitj made the risky statement on a press conference in Minsk on Wednesday.

We are officially announcing that we have been working and are working for the non-registered organisation the Human Rights Centre Viasna and that we will continue to work in the name of this organisation. We are prepared to accept any reaction at all from those in power. We would naturally welcome steps towards changes in the shameful article 193.1 in the Belarusian law since we are convinced that it is in violation of the country’s constitution and do not correspond to international norms of human rights, says Valiantsin Stefanovitj, vice president of Viasna.

Article 193.1 prohibits Belarusian citizens from working in organisations which are not registered and approved by the government. Working in an unregistered organisation can result in nearly two years imprisonment.

It is time the authorities change this law which so grossly violates the freedom of association and prevents the country’s human rights defenders from working freely, which is their right, says Erik Esbj√∂rnson, programme director for the CIS region of the Swedish Helsinki Committee.

Viasna which is the foremost human rights organisation in the country has been forced to work illegally since the authorities revoked its registration in 2003. The explanation was then that the organisation had made itself guilty of violations during the presidential election two years earlier. The UN human rights committee has established that the closing of Viasna is illegal and that the organisation is entitled to compensation and re-registration. In 2007 Viasna applied for registration but was denied. The activists hoped that Belarus would show the EU that they are taking steps towards democracy after the union in October 2008 temporarily lifted the travel ban for dictator Aljaksandr Lukasjenka and 35 other Belarusian politicians and officials.

In January 2009 a new attempt was made to register the organisation. Unfortunately the answer was negative this time as well. The EU has afterwards prolonged the possibility for the Belarusian representatives to travel to the union. After that Viasna has made yet another try but was rejected once again on May 29.

The announcement on Wednesday is Viasna’s contribution to a campaign for the annulment of article 193.1, which the umbrella organisation of the Belarusian non-governmental organisations just has started. The purpose is also to make the Belarusian authorities react – either by softening the legislation or imprison the three Viasna members and thereby show its rightful face.

Categories: News.
Tags: UN Human Rights Committee and Viasna.
Regions: Belarus.