Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

"Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" launch observation amid new repression and COVID-19 pandemic concerns

Uladzimir Labkovich and Aleh Hulak during the online press conference. May 13, 2020
Uladzimir Labkovich and Aleh Hulak during the online press conference. May 13, 2020

Representatives of "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", the country’s only non-partisan election monitoring initiative, held yesterday their first online press conference to announce the launch of a long-term observation of the August 9 presidential election.

The observation co-coordinator, Uladzimir Labkovich, said the electoral process was likely to be strongly influenced by two factors.

The adverse and unacceptable impact of repression on the election

"The Belarusian authorities have launched an election campaign with direct repression against civil society, political activists, human rights defenders and journalists," Labkovich said. "Almost from the very beginning, this campaign has been marked by large-scale and violent persecution of civil society activists who have protested peacefully across Belarus, with more than 100 protesters arrested, and it is even more outrageous that observers and journalists were among them."

Human rights activists strongly oppose this practice and demand an immediate end to the persecution of peaceful protesters, especially journalists and human rights activists, and demand the prompt release of journalists and human rights activists Aliaksandr Burakou, Uladzimir Vialichkin, Raman Kisliak, Ales Asiptsou, Dzmitry Lupach and Mikhail Arshanski, as well as all the boggers who have become victims of the new wave of repression.

Uladzimir Labkovich notes that such a situation creates a very unfavorable background for the election, which indicates that the authorities may have decided to target possible participants: election campaign activists, signature collectors, campaigners, observers and the candidates themselves.

Human rights activists are especially worried and outraged by the situation with Siarhei Tsikhanouski. The authorities have created conditions in which a well-known blogger serving a sentence cannot apply for registration with the CEC through a power of attorney, and even cannot see his lawyer. The activist earlier publicly announced his decision to run for president, but will be effectively deprived of such a right.

COVID-19 pandemic and transparency of electoral procedures

“The risk of infection during the election events is growing. Moreover, there is a great danger that the pandemic may be an obstacle to participation in electoral activities, which will reduce the legitimacy of the electoral process and may interfere with the exercise of active and passive suffrage,” Aleh Hulak, the initiative’s co-coordinator representing the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, said.

Therefore, human rights activists earlier wrote to the Central Election Commission, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court offering a set of specific proposals.

Hulak stresses that it is important to find a balance between the need to provide conditions and procedures that would minimize the risk of infection and at the same time preserve the essence of the election procedures themselves.

"We need to find such a balance in every procedure, starting from the work of the commissions, so that they remain active until Election Day. It is also important that during the collection of signatures or campaigning, or voting itself, voters could be involved in campaigning without health risks,” the human rights activist says.

Distancing measures were proposed in the places where the counting of votes will take place (at polling stations), options for electronic online communication and other technical means of external control were specified, too.

The Central Election Commission, however, replied to the human rights activists that it would not be able to implement their proposals, saying there is “too little time to take the proposed measures”.

The only thing that was promised: meetings of executive committees to form the election commissions should be livestreamed to ensure transparency of procedures.

"Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections"