CMDS Fellow and UN Special Rapporteur, Miklos Haraszti reports on media freedom in Belarus

October 28, 2015

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, CMDS fellow Miklós Haraszti, commended that protests against the perceived flaws of the presidential election in the country were not met with violence as in previous cases, but regretted that no progress was made in serving the Belarusians’ right to free and fair election.

“The election process was orchestrated, and the result was pre-ordained,” Mr. Haraszti said. “It could not be otherwise, given the 20 years of continuous suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, which are the preconditions for any credible competition.”

The expert noted that none of the independent election monitors, both international and local, could verify the officially reported 86 % turnout or 84% endorsement of the incumbent.

“Such high scores have never been claimed in elections in Europe since the end of the Soviet Union,” he stressed. “The observers’ documentations highlighted that not even the four days of coerced participation of prison inmates, army conscripts, and public servants under the label of ‘early voting’, can give up the stated numbers.”

The Special Rapporteur also pointed to the high number of allegations of election-day fraud, such as undocumented handling of voter lists and ballots, voting on behalf of others, carrousel voting, ballot stuffing, voting without proper documents, and mobile voting abuses.

“In my 2013 report* to the UN General Assembly on human rights in electoral processes, I had made a number of recommendations, yet none of these have been followed,” he said. “No independent election commissions with a pluralistic composition had been created; no debates between the candidates were provided in the television media which is largely owned and controlled by the State.”

Mr. Haraszti called attention to the intimidating environment of the electoral campaign. Calls for boycott of the elections were criminalized since the last elections. Political opponents, including an incarcerated 2010 presidential candidate, were released on the eve of the present presidential elections, but none of them have been reinstated in their political and civil rights.

“Actually, at this very moment, criminal proceedings are ongoing against another 2010 presidential candidate,” the expert noted.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the fact that the elections took place without violence, unlike during the presidential elections in 2010 when a massive crackdown had taken place. “However,” he said, “I will closely follow what happens to the demonstrators in the aftermath of the elections, given that massive arbitrary short-term detentions and administrative discrimination are the order of day in Belarus.”

Mr. Haraszti commented on the temporary four-month lifting of the European Union sanctions against Belarus, beginning in January, as signaled by the foreign affairs ministers of the EU on 12 October, in response to the release of six political prisoners on the eve of the elections. He described the move as “a great opportunity for human rights reforms, in harmony with both the country's international commitments and the needs of its ordinary citizens.”

Listing possible immediate steps, the rights expert said Belarus could eliminate the oppressive, permission-based regime of public life; repeal article 193.1 of the Criminal Code that criminalizes public activities without official permission; implement the long overdue electoral and media reform that allows for true competition and informed choice; secure the independence of the judiciary; and introduce a moratorium on the death penalty as a transition toward its abolishment.

“Modernisation processes which are not shouldered by democratisation and the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms are neither sustainable nor meaningful”, the Special Rapporteur stated, reiterating his readiness to cooperate with the Government on the starting steps of a reform. 

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