Belarus: Journalists, Activists and Oppositionists Banned from Travel

by Charter 97    /  April 3, 2012  / No comments

Zhanna Litvina

Zhanna Litvina, chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, is one of several human rights defenders given travel bans over the past weeks. Photo: © European Union - European Parliament

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders expresses regret over the series of travel bans imposed on a number of human rights defenders by the Belarusian authorities, amid the worsening of EU-Belarus diplomatic relations.

According to the Viasna Human Rights Centre, from March 11 till March 15, 2012 several persons were banned from leaving Belarus:

Valentin Stefanovich, Vice Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Centre;
Aleh Hulak, a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC);
Harry Pahanyayla, Chairman of the Legal Commission of the BHC;
Andrei Dynko, Editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva;
Zhanna Litvina, Chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).

Several other opposition activists could not leave the country.

According to reports, in early March 2012 the Belarusian authorities considered making a list of 108 persons –- human rights activists, journalists, and oppositionists -– with the aim to ban them from traveling abroad.

This harsh reaction by the Belarusian authorities appears to be a direct act of retaliation following the EU’s extension of the list of Belarusian officials falling under visa restrictions and freezing of assets in the EU. In February 2012, the EU foreign ministers blacklisted an additional 21 Belarusian officials, bringing the blacklist total to more than 200 individuals.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights denounces this series of travel bans against human rights defenders in Belarus and recalls that Article 12.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Belarus has been a party since November 12, 1973, provides that “everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” The Observatory deplores that by banning human rights defenders from traveling, the Belarusian authorities are preventing them from carrying out their human rights activities, and are therefore further violating the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

This article was originally published by Charter ’97 on March 19, 2012. It is reprinted with permission.

Journalists Barred from Travel

On Thursday, March 15, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a press report detailing the travel bans placed on journalists in Belarus. The press release mentions several of the individuals covered in Charter 97‘s report on the situation, including Zhanna Litvina, Andrei Dynko, and Valentin Stefanovich. CPJ also denounced the travel ban placed on Mikhail Yanchuk, Minsk correspondent for the Poland-based satellite channel Belsat.

On March 15 both Litvina and Yanchuk were denied exit visas without explanation at the Minsk airport as they tried to make their way to Poland. On Wednesday, March 14, Dynko was prevented from travel, and on March 10 Stefanovich was stopped at the border on his way to Lithuania.

“We are astonished by this blatant act of illegal restriction on the freedom of movement of Zhanna Litvina, Mikhail Yanchuk, Andrei Dynko, and Valentin Stefanovich, and call on Belarusian authorities to lift the travel ban at once,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Journalists are not criminals and to treat them as such is a crime. The government must stop punishing individuals for their candid reporting about developments in Belarus.”

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