What tools does the public have to resist the violence of law enforcement agencies and is it high time we reviewed what defines a political prisoner?
Recently, the public was discussing the militia permissiveness and the political prisoners situation in Belarus. As a result there were an open letter and e-petition to Ihar Shunevich, the Minister of Internal Affairs, created. The requirement is to restore order in the internal policy and to resign. There were also suggestions to change the definition criteria for recognizing a person political prisoner. Can the public stop the violence of law enforcement agencies and how to have a dialogue with human rights activists about the political imprisonment issues? "EuroBelarus" Information Service addressed these questions to Volha Smalianka, the director of the Legal Transformation Centre “Lawtrend”.
- How effective may a public appeal and a petition demanding the resignation of the Minister be in our realities?
- Our government often forgets that it was created for the people, not vice versa, and that use of force is possible in extreme situations only, internal affairs officials are to do as little harm to life, health, honor and dignity of a citizen as possible. We have a law "On the internal affairs of the Republic of Belarus", which regulates the use of force. And the information about power abuse by the representatives of the internal organs, which has been recently appearing in the media, concerns human rights organizations.
Of course, citizens have the right to express their concern about the situation by such petitions, but it is impossible to predict what the reaction to them will be.
We have court left among other means of influencing the power structures. But there is no clear separation of powers in our country, so in many cases the court takes the side of the law enforcement agencies.
- And what about those who come into conflict with Special Purpose Mobility Unit and militia on political grounds? Should they silently endure mental and physical abuse and still be found guilty, or should they fight back, be tried for an even more serious crime such as "beating a militia person" and moreover lose the opportunity to obtain the political prisoner status due to the use of force?
First, you can’t be pronounced political prisoner as simply as that, it is a decision made by a group of human rights activists. Secondly, if local reputable human rights organizations recognize a person as a political prisoner, it is a factor for international organizations to do the same. In fact there is no universal definition of a political prisoner, there are a number of criteria, which human rights defenders are guided by when they decide whether to recognize a person political prisoner or not. This way there are PACE criteria and there are criteria developed by a group of human rights defenders in some Eastern European countries, including human rights organizations in Belarus. For a person to be recognized as a political prisoner, there must be politically motivated restrictions to their free will, they should be deprived of their freedom, and their activities should be non-violent. This is not all and in general each case should be considered separately.
There are Amnesty International criteria, however, they separate the political prisoners into two groups: those imprisoned on political grounds and prisoners of conscience. The term "prisoner of conscience" falls under the definition of "political prisoner", but it is a more rigid concept and prisoners of conscience gain greater attention.
- It happened so that public opinion differs from the views of human rights defenders: Andrei Bandarenka is not recognized as a political prisoner by human rights organizations. What should we make of it?
- We should abide by the principles developed, our conscience and, once again, to consider each case separately. Regarding the definitions, the criteria, of course they are also something that does not change. But everything should be discussed and changed from the position of good sence, not doing any harm to others, as well as the position of human rights values.