Europe of Human Rights

Doubtful procedures

In August 2011 Polish prosecution transferred to Belarus bank account information of Ales Bialatsky. On the basis of the information obtained by Belarusian authorities Bialatsky was sentenced to 4.5 years in a high security prison and his assets were confiscated. Today (12 December 2011) Polish airport border guard detained Ales Michalewicz. He was pursued with a “wanted notice” issued by Belarus and included in the Interpol database. Detention was based on the same agreement on legal assistance between Belarus and Poland which was the basis for the transfer of information on A. Bialatsky bank accounts in August this year.

A. Michalewicz is a Belarusian oppositionist, he was a candidate in the 2010 presidential elections. After the 19 December 2010 demonstrations he was arrested by the KGB and tortured. He was released on 19 February 2011 on the condition he would not reveal the fact that he had been tortured. However, after his release he disclosed the information and was forced to flee from Belarus. He obtained asylum in the Czech Republic.

The detention of the Belarusian oppositionist caused an immediate reaction of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vice Minister Krzysztof Stanowski personally intervened for the release of A. Michalewicz. The opposition leader was released after a couple of hours, however he missed his plane to London, where Belarusian activists were meeting UK officials. The prosecution explained that the detention was a standard procedure that takes place where a person included in the Interpol lists is crossing the border.

The case of A. Michalewicz again indicates how ineffective the procedures are and how dubious the information flow among member states is. Both the today’s example and the transfer of A. Belatsky information may lead to the conclusion that there is an urgent need to comprehensively regulate matters of legal assistance with third countries on European level. At the EU level, cooperation has been established between member states themselves, however when it comes to third countries, agreements have been concluded only with some states (US and Japan among others). It is time to start a debate on the necessity to adopt instruments on cooperation with non-democratic regimes and instruments of protection of human rights defenders and oppositionist coming from third countries.

Besides the need to introduce instruments of cooperation, the story demonstrates the necessity to train execution authorities in respect of human rights questions. A. Michalewicz case shows the urgent need to increase the human rights sensible among Polish citizens.

Luckily yesterday’s story had a happy ending and the only negative consequence was the delay in A. Michalewicz travel. However, as demonstrated by the case of A. Belatsky the doubtful procedures, the imprudence of authorities and, above all, the painful ignorance when it comes to the situation of human rights defenders demonstrated by state officials at different levels of administration may be tragic in consequences.

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska and Zuzanna Warso, “Europe of Human Rights”

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