HR activists protest against closure of Platforma
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the liquidation and closure of Platforma, a human rights organisation specialised in the protection of prisoners’ rights.
According to the information received, on October 9, 2012, the Minsk economic court decided to close down Platforma. The decision follows a claim of the Tax Office of Minsk's Savestki district, that the organisation had allegedly failed to lodge the tax return on time, and to inform it about a change of address. However, it appears that those claims are groundless, as Platforma did indeed lodge the tax return on time, but the Tax Office of Minsk reportedly lost the document. Representatives of the organisation announced that they would appeal against the court decision.
It is to be noted that Platforma has been repeatedly harassed by the authorities over the past months. For instance, on June 26, 2012, the Minsk Prosecutor's Office warned Andrei Bandarenka, Head of Platforma, that he was "discrediting the Republic of Belarus and its governmental bodies." These warnings took place after Platforma urged the international Ice Hockey Federation not to hold the 2014 World Championship in Minsk as long as the country held political prisoners and used repression against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists. A few days earlier, on June 18, 2012, Platforma had published a report on human rights abuses in detention centres and correctional institutions in Belarus.
In addition, on July 19, 2012, the KGB informed Mr. Bandarenka that it had registered his name for alleged draft evasion and that he might face foreign travel restrictions under Lukashenko's recent Decree No. 295. The Minsk Tsentralny District Court eventually dismissed the case on July 20, after Mr. Bandarenka lodged a complaint against the travel ban. The Interior Ministry's Immigration and Citizenship Department acknowledged that there had been a mistake and removed him from the travel ban list.
On July 26, 2012, the authorities finally warned Platforma that the organisation would be closed down for alleged failure to comply with tax requirements. The Tax Office of Minsk Savestki district filed a claim but the hearing, initially scheduled on September 6, 2012, was finally postponed to October 9, 2012.
The Observatory notes that, like the vast majority of NGOs in Belarus, Platforma has never been able to obtain official registration in order to operate legally. This situation raises fears that, if it continues to carry out its human rights activities, its members might face conviction under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (criminal responsibility for participation in the activities of an unregistered association), which specifically aims at hindering civil society activities.
The Observatory strongly condemns the court decision to close down Platforma, as it is arbitrary and seems to merely aim at sanctioning its legitimate human rights activities. It is all the more concerned as human rights defenders and organisations have been subjected to increasing pressure over the past months, in the electoral context.