23 November 2017, Thursday, 10:18

Khrystafor Zhaliapau: OSCE’s Key Mission Is To Defend People’s Right To Peaceful Protest

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KHRYSTAFOR ZHALIAPAU

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly should demand that the authorities respect this constitutional right of the Belarusians.

Participant of the parallel civil society forum, which was held yesterday in Minsk, Vitsebsk human rights activist Khrystafor Zhaliapau said this to the Charter97.org.

- You were the only one who raised the issue of the necessity to struggle for the Belarusians’ right to peaceful protest, at the parallel civil society forum in Minsk. Why do you consider this topic the timeliest?

- The main reason why this issue is so timely is that most repression, arrests and fines that happened in Belarus recently were aimed exactly against the participants of peaceful protest actions.

As for all the other articles related to civil activism, we made the authorities “hide the claws” at least temporarily. For example, we struggled so that there would be no harassment under Article 193.1 (activity on behalf of an unregistered organization) for a long time, and there is practically no repression under this Article now. The whole mightiness of the repressive apparatus fell on the participants of peaceful protest actions. Therefore, this is the timeliest issue in Belarus today.

Secondly, I am convinced that if an individual has a right to come out with a peaceful action, even if it’s a one-person picket, a chain reaction to this action will start and the authorities couldn’t but react. Any public demonstration makes them feel uneasy. And if a big group of people takes on to the streets, the resonance appears inevitable, the authorities will not be able to ignore it.

Let’s see how it works worldwide. For example, Trump adopts a certain decree and there are people who disagree with it. What do they do in the first place? The people come out to the streets. Everywhere, in any normal country, if something goes wrong – the people come out with a street protest straightaway.

Only after this an informational wave comes along, and some reaction happens. There are no other effective means to fight for your rights.

If we achieve the right to go out and express our protest, this will be the most important victory for Belarusians and the most important factor for us to be able to continue fighting and defending our rights.

Peaceful protests remain a key task for us today. If a person has the right to publicly go to the Square, to the street, to any state institution - everything else will follow.

- How did the participants of the forum react to your thesis that the right to peaceful protest is the most important issue for the Belarusians in today’s circumstances?

- Sincerely, I am disappointed with the reaction of our human rights defenders. Their reaction was merely formal. One colleague said, no, it cannot be the first-priority issue, the most important theme today is respecting freedom of word. Another colleague claimed it was the death penalty abolishment which was more important. In the end, the theme of peaceful protests was halted.

- What needs to be done to make the issue of peaceful protests timely again, and to return this constitutional right to Belarusians?

- There are several ways.

First, the forum was held on the eve of the opening of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk. And we adopted a statement, which will be announced at the session of the PA OSCE. By the same principle, the issue of the right of Belarusians to peaceful protests must be raised in all international instances, in which Belarus at least somehow participates. We should convey to the leadership of these organizations that they must demand that the Belarusian authorities comply with their international obligations.

Secondly, any unlawful decisions of the authorities to ban actions or to fine their organizers must be appealed in large measure in all instances. Simply at all levels and by all who encounter injustice. In each case, it is necessary to actively demand the cancellation of illegal decisions.

Thirdly, you just need to show your civil courage. Activists and just citizens of the country should not be afraid and just take on to the streets, even if an action was not allowed. It does not matter how many people come out - it will be an example for the rest. You just have to go this way. And the water grinds the stone.

Important to note, on July 7, an action with a demand to release political prisoners and abolish the exercise "West-2017" will be held in the Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk. On this day the meeting of the PA OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be conducted in the Belarusian capital.