СТОП 193.1!

Гэтая старонка прысьвечаная грамадзкай кампаніі за скасаваньне артыкула 193.1 КК РБ, які супярэчыць Канстытуцыі Рэспублікі Беларусь і міжнародным абавязкам, узятым на сябе нашай краінай. Кампанія ініцыяваная Асамблеяй няўрадавых дэмакратычных арганізацыяў...

 
 

Introduction Of Article 193-1 Into The Criminal Code: "Anti-Revolutionary Law"

An important issue during the preparation of Belarusian authorities for the presidential elections in 2006 was the improvement of political repression mechanisms. Just before the elections several regulatory legislative acts were issued. They significantly limited the opposition’s scope of political activities and enhanced penalties for "political" crimes. During previous election processes all participants felt pressure. The means of the repressions were different: authorities used articles from the Code of Administrative Violations (those concerning violation of organizing mass actions, participating in activities of unregistered public associations); dispositions of the Electoral Code regarding the illegality of certain methods of political struggle or agitation ; dispositions of the Law “On Political Parties and Public Associations” concerning restriction to create the pre-election coalitions, restriction on the participation of public associations in political struggle); statements from the Law “On Rallies and Demonstrations”. But the political heat of 2006 and the apparent threatening possibility of a "color revolution" in Belarus forced the authorities to introduce new, more brutal and strict methods of limiting political activity.

One of the most significant steps undertaken by the government is introducing a number of changes to the Criminal Code, which established criminal penalty for certain forms of political and civil activity. On 25th November, 2005 in the first reading and on 2nd December, 2005 in the second reading, the House of Representatives of Belarusian parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Criminal Procedure Code, which increased the liability for “actions against people’s and public safety”. The bill was sent by the President to the Parliament on 23rd November, 2005, it was marked as "urgent". The bill was discussed on an expedited basis, the fact was known in Belarus, as well as in many other countries. Even MPs of the entirely dependent Belarusian parliament expressed their concern in regard to the extremely severe measures proposed in the bill. But under pressure from the Presidential Administration and from KGB (which developed the bill), the amendments were adopted. In the first reading just one of 95 deputies of the House of Representatives voted against the bill. In the second reading 4 Deputies had courage to vote against the odious bill, while 97 supported the amendments. Soon the Council of the Republic unanimously approved the amendments almost without discussing them. After the bill had been signed by the President on 2nd January 2006 and just after the election campaign had been launched, the bill with the amendments came into force.

The bill was presented in the Parliament by the Head of KGB Stsyapan Suharenka, he was actually “promoting” the bill, so it received the title "Suharenka’s Law” in media. The Head of the KGB stated openly that the main objective of the new law is “to keep down a wave of large-scale meetings that opposition was preparing for the election campaign”. When presenting the bill in the Parliament, Mr Suharenka said: “The leaders of the oppositional political parties give false information on the political process in Belarus on purpose. The main aim of these statements - to force Western politicians to impose sanctions against Belarus. Oppositioners wish to seize power and change the constitutional regime, organizing a revolution of the kind which happened in Georgia in 2003, in Ukraine in 2004 and in Kyrgyzia in 2005”. Mr. Suharenka was convincing MPs that on the territory of Belarus existed several oppositional militant camps. Those militants, according Suharenka, were prepared for participation in mass riots during presidential elections. The Head of the KGB said that such camps existed in Krupshchyna and Vyaleyshchyna and, apart from that, such camps functioned abroad, and their main aim was to prepare "color" revolution in Belarus.

Mr. Sucharenka said that the United States used the resources of international and foreign non-governmental organizations to prepare special military groups for organizing large-scale meetings in Belarus. According to Mr. Suharenka, the main organizers of street actions had to become unregistered youth organizations "Young Front" and "Zubr." However, the Head of the KGB saw the main threat to the national safety not in the speech of the oppositional leaders, who, in his opinion, were not supported by society anyway. Mr. Suharenka treated the pressure from the West as the main threatening factor. During the discussion of the odious bill, a special leaflet was disseminated among the MPs. It contained “explanation” of the necessity to adopt severe amendments in the law: for instance, there was a list with more than 30 foreign and international organizations that allegedly “financed or organized activities against Belarusian regime”. The list included American National Endowment for Democracy and International Republican Institute, Eastern European Democratic Center and Stefan Batory Foundation in Poland, Polish-American Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, Slovak Pontis Foundation and others.

The Criminal Code has been completed with several new articles. In particular, with Article 193-1 (“The illegal organization of the activities of a civic association, religious organization or foundation or participation in those activities”). The article states that participating in the activities of organizations and foundations, with respect to which came into force a court decision on the suspension of their activities or on their complete closure, is punishable by fine or arrest for up to 6 months, or by imprisonment for up to 2 years. In circumstances when the majority of non-governmental organizations in Belarus are working without registration, because it is almost impossible for independent NGOs to get registered, this article practically urges to treat thousands of Belarusian citizens as criminals. A person who stops his or her activities in such an organization voluntarily and tells about the fact to a relevant public authority, will not be subject to criminal responsibility if there are no elements of another crime in his/her actions. Article 193 (“Creating a civic association or religious organization, which violates human rights, as well as leadership in such organizations”) introduced a rule that increased penalty for this crime if it had been committed by an unregistered organization (now it is punishable by arrest for the term of 6 months, or by imprisonment for up to 3 years).

Article 293 “Riots” has been completed with a third part, according to which education or training of other persons to participate in mass riots, or financing these activities shall be punished by arrest for a term of up to 6 months or imprisonment for the term of up to 3 years. Given that article 293 has already contented provisions on the organization of mass disturbances (Part 1 of the article), this novel can mean criminalization of those actions, which are actually not riots. In fact, now not even an attempt of riot, but the mere intention to organize it is being punished. There is a high possibility that this new provision may be used even towards any educational program, which, in opinion of public officials, might in the future threaten the sustainability of the authoritarian regime in Belarus. Haziness of definitions which are used in article 293 ("teaching or training other persons ..." and "financing or providing other material support") can let officials use it in any situation, prosecuting people even if they actually had not committed any offense.

Article 342 of the Criminal Code was completed with a provision which said that the education or training of other persons to participate in group activities which violate public order (like disobedience to legitimate demands of public officials or actions that cause the disruption of the work of transport, enterprises, institutions or organizations), as well as financing such activities and providing them with any other material help is punishable by arrest for up to 6 months or imprisonment for up to 2 years. It is obvious that this innovation is linked with the previously discussed provision of Article 293 and creates the possibility of bringing to criminal responsibility those people who are involved in educational activities in the civic sector. Under this article such non-violent activities as non-violent strikes, flash mobs, hunger strikes and other might be treated as crimes.

According to the new version of the Criminal Code, the punishment for public calls for seizing state power or violently changing the constitutional order became more severe. Now (see Article 361 of the Criminal Code) it is punishable by arrest for up to 6 months or imprisonment for up to 3 years. This article also greatly expanded the object of protection and increased the range of possible means of disseminating public calls for seizing state power (they might be expressed as a wish to change constitutional regime, to commit terroristic act, to make a diversion, etc.). The second part of Article 361 says that such public calls shall be punished especially severely if they are addressed to foreign states, foreign or international organizations: they shall be punished by arrest for up to 6 months, or imprisonment for up to 3 years (and when the calls will be disseminated through media, the penalty shall be even more severe - imprisonment from 2 to 5 years). It is obvious that as a vague definition of criminal actions without specifying possible methods of committing a crime may convert this article into an effective means of “dealing” with freedom of speech in the country. In fact, any expression of dissatisfaction with current regime may be treated as a “crime” now.

The Criminal Code has also been completed with a new article 369-1 “Defamation of the Republic of Belarus”. Defamation is defined as “Providing foreign state, foreign or international organization with false information about political, economical, social, military or international situation in the Republic of Belarus, about its citizens’ or government’s legal status”. Such activities shall be punishable by arrest for up to 6 months or imprisonment for the term of up to 2 years. Human rights defenders and journalists have expressed concern that this article seems to be the one specially designed to persecute independent journalists and human rights defenders. The Criminal Code already consists an article on calumny, so the new one (369-1) may be applied exclusively against the political opponents. Article 369-1 is a classic example of a political criminal offense.

This provision is unusual for Belarusian law, and in some way it contradicts the principles of territoriality of criminal law. The same can be said about the new regulation imposed by Article 382— “unauthorized appropriation of the title or powers of a government official” with the purpose to participate in negotiations or other meetings with foreign States, foreign or international organizations. Basically, this article makes it possible to punish Belrusian (or even foreign!) citizens for actions committed not only in Belarus, but also abroad.

Human rights activists in Belarus have opposed the imposition of “political” articles in the criminal law. Human rights activist Aleh Gulak from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee said: “The cynicism of government officials is really impressive, they even don’t try to hide that everything is done in connection with future presidential elections”.

But now Belarusian secret services have a perfect “legal” justification for political repressions and criminal prosecution of human rights defenders and all other opponents of current regime. Majority of observers believed that the main purpose of imposing severe criminal articles was intimidation of people before the start of the election campaign. The second purpose was to stop work of non-governmental and “oppositional” political organizations through the criminal prosecution of activists. The third purpose was the further informational isolation of Belarusian society.

Article 193-1 started being used almost immediately after the amendments in the Criminal Code had been made. The first ones to suffer from it became the activists of the civil initiative “Partnerstva” (“Partnership”) that specialized in the monitoring of the elections. Thus, in fact, the national system of gaining alternative voting results was destroyed. Later on new criminal cases against civic activists were launched.