In the center of Europe, people are tortured and killed for their opinions, and this is no joke.

On Thursday, April 29, 2020, a German-Belarusian virtual “round table” was held on the legal situation in Belarus. The reason for the gathering of experts was the “legal default” in the country, a situation when a regime openly ignores the laws to practice repression. The German Society for East European Studies, which was the main organizer of the meeting, managed to gather a representative body of participants so that the discussion was competent.

The legal situation in Belarus and ways out of the “legal default”

Maria Kalesnikava’s portrait in the center

Advocates are afraid to take up “political” cases

Since August 2020, 17 Belarusian lawyers have been stripped of their licenses. All of them worked with political prisoners, giving comments to the media whenever possible. For example, human rights activist Maria Kalesnikava, arrested in September 2020, has already lost four lawyers, including experienced advocates Lyudmila Kazak and Alexander Pylchenko, who took part in the round table. Against that backdrop and after the informal warnings of the Ministry of Justice, the lawyers’ corps as a whole is afraid to take on such cases so as not to lose their jobs. Even those lawyers who still work with the “political” ones are under pressure because there is no access to the client, confidentiality, they are not allowed to photograph the case materials, etc., Kazak noted. In addition, the latest changes to the legislation legalized the intervention of the Ministry of Justice in the management of the lawyer profession, turned the once independent institution into a subordinate of the executive vertical of power.

Absurd attempts to stop fermentation in the ranks of the internal affairs bodies

Even though not a single criminal case has been initiated on irrefutable facts of violence by the security forces, many professionals have left the system of internal affairs bodies. Taking into account those who quit and the shortage of personnel that had been already before the events, the lack of personnel is at 20% now, the representative of National Anti-crisis Management said. There is no competition among applicants to the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and its professors have left (been fired) from the university, so there is no opportunity to defend dissertations there now. The ongoing lustration of employees of the police intends to stop the fermentation in its ranks. Officers are fired or deprived of promotion for signatures for the nomination of alternative candidates, determined on a polygraph. There are cases when the loyalty of law enforcement officers is checked by wiping their feet on the white-red-white flag, recording a video in support of Alexander Lukashenko. Professionalism completely faded into the background.

The instances of torture have increased in places of detention

The videos of “confessions” of politically motivated detainees recorded against the background of the red-green flag, although the naked bruises and scars of the bleeding people shot show that they were apparently beaten and tortured to draw out them, in the state media are also disgusting. In this regard, the European Broadcasting Union has recently sent an inquiry to Belteleradiocompany for clarifications. Also, numerous testimonies from prisoners note the overcrowding of cells, arbitrary deprivation of parcels, bedding, and unsanitary conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic in general.

See also: New book on state violence

Sanctions and prosecution

Given the lack of practice of instituting criminal cases for violence within the country, the lawyers noted that it is worth paying attention to the previously unused institute of interstate complaints, spelled out in article 41 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Andrea Gavrich of the University of Giessen also recalled that the potential of the Venice Commission, the UN, the OSCE in resolving legal default is not fully used. Thus, within the framework of the procedure of the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism, proposals have already been worked out, the implementation of which should be started by the Belarusian authorities. In addition, international partners should make better use of the information collected and initiate criminal proceedings under universal jurisdiction.

EU sanctions show a weak result so far

Tabea Rößner, member of the Bundestag, said that many countries in the West have not believed that a large-scale 2020 peaceful protest movement actually took place. Understanding and awareness of the phenomenon come only nowadays. 88 Belarusian officials have already become subjects of personal EU sanctions but their potential has not yet been exhausted. The issue of imposing economic sanctions is being considered, but they must be precise so as not to affect the broad strata of the population, although the forum participants suggested that the Belarusians are ready for a temporary deterioration in their financial situation in the name of democracy.

Three issues should become the core of the negotiating agenda of the interested parties: new presidential elections, the release of political prisoners, and the end of repression. There is no trust in either the court or the CEC, there is a complete legal default in Belarus now. The regime is in the process of denying the crisis and does not understand that dialogue is necessary. Nevertheless, Gerhart Baum, ex-Minister of the Interior of the Federal Republic of Germany, stressed that violent methods of resolving the collapse are unacceptable.

By supporting Lukashenko, Russia supports repression

In general, the socio-political situation in Belarus is only getting worse, noted Olga Kovalkova, member of the Coordination Council. The newly adopted laws run counter to the Constitution and international documents ratified by Belarus. Task number one is to end repression. In her opinion, it is worth involving Russia in resolving the political crisis, although it has its own interest in maintaining the regime loyal to the Kremlin because new elections in Belarus could become a signal for the Russian opposition to more decisively pursue democratic changes too.

See also: UN round table on political prisoners in Belarus: little strokes fell great oaks

We need publicity. The media attention to legal default

The general message of the speakers was that the topic of Belarus should be kept on the agenda. In Germany, for example, the information space is full of news about the coronavirus, the Bundestag elections, not enough attention is paid to Navalny, and even less to Belarus. At the same time, Russian propaganda and disinformation fill the resulting void in the information field.

One of the options for supporting the democratic aspirations of Belarusians may be the placement of materials of the Belarusian media in the European press. It is worth reminding those who commit atrocities that their actions are recorded and will not be forgotten. The proposal on hearings in parliaments, city councils of foreign sister cities of Belarusian cities on the situation in Belarus is worthy of implementation too.

New draconian laws that are destroying civil society and the media and repression need to be gotten across the world. In the center of Europe, people are tortured and killed for their opinions, and this is no joke.

Pavel Pernikau, member of the board, head of the press center of the ISHR (Belarus)