Authorities performing balancing act between their interests and human rights
The Belarusian authorities are performing a balancing act between their interests and human rights respect, Valyantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, told BelaPAN on the occasion of 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2018, 18 people became the targets of politically motivated criminal prosecution, according to the rights activist. They are Henadz Fyadynich and Ihar Komlik, leaders of the Independent Union of Electronic Industry Workers, and BelaPAN founder Ales Lipay, all of whom were charged with tax evasion. The other 15 people are those who were charged in a so-called BelTA case.
In 2017, politically motivated criminal charges were brought against 40 people, Mr. Stefanovich said.
The number of politically motivated criminal cases went down this year but this may be due to the lack of important political events such as elections or waves of street protests, he explained.
“Criminal proceedings were still instituted, which means that the authorities still have the task of controlling society,” he said.
Mr. Stefanovich said that 153 people had been handed fines and 14 people had been sentenced to a total of 208 days in jail for participation in an unauthorized demonstrations this year.
“The main thing is that there has been no systemic change,” he said. “The authorities can adjust their practice of using repression depending on domestic and external factors. When there are elections, there will be no guarantees that they will pass off without repression.”
Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, said that there had been no considerable changes in the human rights situation in the country this year.
“The authorities have started refraining from excessively flagrant human rights abuses,” he added. “The situation now is better than it was five to seven years ago, when there were constantly some people who were seen by everyone as political prisoners.”
Mr. Hulak suggested that the government had been forced to ease its crackdown on political opponents after improving political relations with the European Union and the United States.
At the same time, he said, the Belarusian authorities still disregard individuals’ rights.