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Belarus: Demonstrators must be allowed freedom


Belarus: Demonstrators must be allowed freedom of expression

The Belarusian authorities must ensure the right to peaceful protest for political opponents and human rights activists, Amnesty international said today in the context of anti-government demonstrations planned for tomorrow, the 10th anniversary of Alyaksandr Lukashenko's presidency.

"There should be no repeat of the ugly scenes of police brutality and arbitrary arrests witnessed during past demonstrations," Amnesty International urged.

"International human rights standards must be fully observed during policing operations," the organization stressed.

In the past large scale protest actions have met with a repressive response from the Belarusian authorities and have resulted in waves of arrests. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concern about the Belarusian authorities' disregard for human rights, including the harassment and intimidation of non-governmental organizations and trade unions, the stifling the freedom of expression and association, and "disappearances" of opposition politicians and a cameraman.

"The Belarusian authorities continually demonstrate their lack of tolerance for dissent."

"Anyone detained for their peaceful protests will be considered to be a prisoner of conscience", Amnesty International said as the organization prepares to monitor closely the demonstration on 21 July.

The Belarusian authorities are obliged under Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee citizens the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This is particularly important in the run-up to the parliamentary elections on 17 October when those engaged in civil society, and in particular members of the opposition, should be allowed to express their views openly .

Background

In March 2004, Amnesty International called on the authorities to end the practice of detaining people solely for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association.

In April 2002, 85 peaceful demonstrators were detained and more than 30 were sentenced to periods of imprisonment between three and 15 days. Opposition activists are continually harassed and according to Zubr, a non-registered youth organization for democracy and human rights, in the period between January 2001 and December 2003 more than a thousand incidents occurred during peaceful public actions. Amnesty International has already taken up two cases of activist arrested for the peaceful expression of their views so far this year.

In April 2004, the UN Commission on Human Rights criticized Belarus for continued reports of arbitrary arrest and detention and for harassment of non-governmental organizations and opposition political parties and those engaged in democratic activities. It has called on Belarus to bring the actions of its police and security forces into conformity with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In May 2004, the Council of Europe rejected an application from Belarus to renew its special status with the organization which had been suspended when President Lukashenko dissolved the parliament in 1997.

Stifling the promotion of human rights - Take action! Visit http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maacs3saa8znpbb0hPub/

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