Possibilities to exercise freedom of association in Belarus did not improve in 2011. On the level of legal regulations authorities introduced a range of innovations that may potentially worsen the situation with activities of NGOs and other legal forms of non-commercial organizations. As to law enforcement practice, no substantial positive change has been filed; former negative trends have been continued and intensified in a range of cases.
Below we enlist most important events and tendencies that took place in relation to the sphere of freedom of association and legal status of NGOs in Belarus:
- Draft Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations”, notwithstanding the initial plan, was not introduced to the Parliament for consideration in 2011. The law’s preliminary drafts caused serious public concern.
- Legislative amendments that provided for new limitations in financing public associations and parties, including those that imposed criminal liability for violating the order of receiving foreign gratuitous aid were brought about in 2011.
- Chairperson of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Mr. Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to 4.5 years of custodial restraint for tax evasion. Deputy-Chair of “Viasna”, Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, was held liable with civil responsibility on similar grounds; tax arrears were recovered from the funds received by the Human Rights Center as donations for assistance to the victims of political repressions.
- Repressions against political and civil activists in the aftermath of Presidential elections of December 19, 2010, actually affected work of many NGOs: as a result of numerous searches and confiscations of equipment some of them were deprived of technical bases for their activities.
- Cases of persecution of human rights defenders, members of oppositional political parties and public associations became more frequent and tough. Investigative work upon a range of criminal cases is still in action, preventive detentions are practiced and other types of pressure are exercised against parties and associations.
- Prosecutor’s notices were issued to members of unregistered religious and public associations in relation to Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code.
- Practice of unconditioned denial of registration to non-commercial organizations, including public associations and institutions, had been continued in 2011.
- Belarusian authorities hindered international contacts of Belarusian civil society, causing obstacles to certain Belarusian citizens leaving the country and making impediments for international observers to visit Belarus.
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