Seventeen people have been convicted in Belarus under the Criminal Code’s Article 193-1 that penalizes acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, according to the country’s human rights defenders.
Rights activists discussed the article at a meeting held in Minsk on Monday.
The Belarusian authorities made affiliation with an unregistered organization a criminal offense shortly before the 2006 presidential election.
Rights activist Valyantsin Stefanovich said that there had been great hope that Belarusian lawmakers would amend the Code to scrap the article at the past fall session, but it had not happened.
Aleh Hulak, leader of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, stressed that the article runs counter to international rights treaties and the country’s constitution that guarantees the people the right to freedom of association.
"We visited the Prosecutor General’s Office dressed as Fathers Frost and asked it to hold us liable for acting on behalf of an unregistered group of Fathers Frost. And what were we told? We were told that we might be held liable if consistency in our activities is established," Mr. Hulak said. "But it is not the way how laws should work. Either there is a liability or there isn’t any. One cannot say that you, perhaps, would be held liable. The article is a mockery of justice."
The activist stressed that Belarus is the only country in the post-Soviet region that has such an article. In countries where affiliation with unregistered organizations is forbidden, organizations obtain registration upon application without official authorizations, he said.