Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Belarusian Authorities harass the Helsinki Committee despite court ruling

Minsk, Vienna, 21 October 2005. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) are gravely concerned by continuing threats against the Committee, in spite of an earlier court decision that cleared the group and its leaders of charges of tax evasion.

In its case on 23 June 2004, the Minsk Economic Court judged in favour of the BHC against the Taxes and Dues Ministry Inspection of the Moscow district of the capital Minsk, which claimed that the Committee was responsible for taxes on funds received under the TACIS programme.
The court decision confirmed that the BHC activities were lawful and complied with all regulations and procedures: the BHC projects, supported by the European Commission, were approved by the Belarus government and registered with the Economics Ministry. The terms and conditions of the TACIS programme in Belarus were regulated by the General Rules applicable for the “Memorandum on Financing” from 10 May 1994. The General Rules also contained a norm that taxes and customs duties cannot be financed from the EU subsidies. The court has also ordered the Ministry to pay back 190,000 roubles for the BHC’s litigation fees.

Despite this final decision and the fact that this matter is res judicata, on 14 October 2005 the BHC has received a copy of a protest against the court decision prepared by the first deputy chair of the Supreme Economic Court (SEC), Eugene Smirnou. In this document Mr. Smirnou insists that BHC return to the state budget a sum of around 70,000 EURO. Should the SEC Presidium satisfy Mr. Smirnou’s protest, it is feared that the prosecutor will renew the closed case, threatening again BHC officials with prison and confiscation of property.

The IHF and BHC consider the actions of the first deputy chair of the SEC to be contrary to the rule of law and to be politically motivated, directed to liquidation of the human rights organization, which reports about the wide-spread human rights violations and undertakes monitoring of election campaigns in Belarus. We appeal to you to do all in your power to help stop the ongoing harassment of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and to support them in their efforts to restore human rights and the rule of law in Belarus.

IHF Press release--
HREA - Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is an international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning; the training of activists and professionals; the development of educational materials and programming; and community-building through on-line technologies.

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