Joint Statement of Belarusian Human Rights Organizations
Minsk, 3 August 2017
On 2 August 2017, Gennadiy Fedynich, the Chairman of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Radio and Electronic Industry Workers (REP), was detained under the criminal case instituted under Article 243, Part 2, of the Criminal Code (tax evasion on an especially large scale). Later he was released. The Article, incriminated to Gennadiy Fedynich, provides for imprisonment for up to seven years with confiscation of property.
Another criminal case was initiated against Igor Komlik, the chief accountant of the REP trade union. Officers of the Financial Investigation Department/ State Control Committee of Belarus raided the homes of Igor Komlik, Gennadiy Fedynich and Natalia Pichuzhkina, as well as the office of the REP trade union and the central office of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union in Salihorsk. They confiscated computers and financial documents.
According to the official information, provided by the State Control Committee of Belarus, during the audit, held as part of the criminal case, they found that "the chairman and the chief accountant of the trade union opened accounts in foreign banks on behalf of the trade union with the purpose of personal enrichment and constantly received large transfers of funds".
It is worth noting that a similar criminal case was filed in 2011 against Ales Bialiatsky, the Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Centre. The human rights community and international community expressly qualified that case as the prosecution of a prominent human rights defender for many years of his human rights work.
Considering the case of Ales Bialiatski, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted in their Opinion that, in accordance with Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCRP), the State Parties are bound not only with the negative obligation not to interfere with the formation of associations or with their activities, but also with the positive obligation to ensure the legal basis for the integration of legal entities in such activities. In the opinion of the Working Group, the positive obligation under Article 22 of the ICCPR covers such measures as the facilitation of associations' objectives through the public funding or through the exemption from taxes on funds received by associations from the foreign countries.
We clearly perceive that the criminal case against the leaders of the REP trade union, Gennadiy Fedynich and Igor Komlik, is an attack against the independent trade union movement. It is related to their civic activities and is explained by the desire of the public authorities to intimidate the civil society organizations in Belarus. In this regard, we want to remind that the REP trade union gathered over 45,000 signatures against Presidential Decree No. 3 (On Prevention of Social Parasitism) and actively participated in the so called Marches of Non-Parasites held in many cities of Belarus in the spring of 2017; besides legal inspectors of the trade union provided legal assistance to individuals.
These circumstances prove that the criminal proceedings brought against the leaders of the REP trade union should be considered in the light of the guarantees set forth in Article 22 of the ICCPR.
In this regard, we, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, remind the authorities of the Republic of Belarus that, under Article 22 of the ICCPR, everyone has the right to freedom of association, including the right to form trade unions and join them to protect one's interests. The exercise of this right is subject to no restrictions other than those provided for by law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of the state or public security, public order, public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Nothing gives the right to the State Parties to the ILO Convention No. 87 to adopt legislation to the detriment of the guarantees provided for in the Convention, or to apply the law in such a way as to impair these guarantees.
In accordance with Article 3 of ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No. 87, the public authorities refrain from any interference, which could restrict or impede the lawful exercise of the right of workers and employers to draw up their charters and rules, to freely elect their representatives, to organize their administration and their activities and to formulate their programmes of action. The protection of trade unions and their rights from interference of the government guarantees the rights of individuals to the protection of their economic and social interests.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations:
1. Believe that the criminal case against the leaders of the REP trade union Igor Komlik and Gennadiy Fedynich is politically motivated and related to their active trade union work and peaceful implementation of the right to freedom association;
2. Urge to stop the prosecution of Gennadiy Fedynich and Igor Komlik;
3. Consider Igor Komlik, who is detained now, a political prisoner and demand his immediate release.
4. At the same time, we urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the pressure on the independent trade union movement and to abandon the unlawful interference in the trade unions' activities.
5. We call on the Belarusian public and the international community to use every possible means of political and legal pressure on the Government of Belarus to release Igor Komlik.
Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus
The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Documentation Centre
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Identity&Law Initiative Group
Viasna Human Rights Centre
Legal Initiative NGO
Salidarnasć (Solidarity Committee to Protect the Repressed)
Human Constanta Advisory Centre on Current International Practices and Implementation of Them in Law
Legal Transformation Centre (Lawtrend)