World Ice-hockey Championships in Belarus: country has opened up, system remains closed
On May 16th 2014, at a press-conference in Warsaw Belarusian human rights defenders spoke of how despite the fact Belarus has opened up during the World Ice-Hockey Championships, the system itself remains closed and human rights continue to be violated.
“The Championships which are underway have confirmed our concerns that the Belarusian authorities are actively trying to turn this international sports event into an ideological and politicized show, neglecting human rights, keeping political prisoners in prisons and using the death penalty”, - said Pavel Levinov, a representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
In an attempt to create an ideal picture, the Belarusian authorities started repressions against human rights defenders and the political opposition before the Championships even opened – more than 20 people were subject to “preventative arrests”. “The authorities also cleansed the city of ‘asocial elements’ (homeless, people with drug or alcohol dependencies, and sex workers), putting them in custody and sentencing them to forced labour back in the first week of the Championships”, emphasized Andrei Poluda, a human rights defender from Viasna Human Rights Centre.
According to Olga Salomatova, a representative of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw), speaking about human rights violations is especially important now, when there is heightened attention on Belarus from the international media.
“During the Championships, if a foreign media correspondent had received accreditation from the International Hockey Federation, he/she was no longer required to accredit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” said Andrei Bastunets, vice-president of the Belarus Association of Journalists. “And as a whole, except for a few incidents, journalists have not encountered any particular problems in their work. However, the ‘cleansing’ of Minsk was carried out with the journalists in mind. So as not to give them the ‘wrong picture’ – and to do this by not hindering the work of journalists, but trying to clear people out of the frame who could ‘spoil’ it” – he added.
“We are monitoring international media and have noted a heightened interest to Belarus due to the Championships, as well as a larger amount of articles about the country which are not connected with sport” said Yuliya Slutskaya, director of Solidarity with Belarus Information Office. She also added that “the main topics in the media outside Belarus are: the dictatorship, the fates of political prisoners, the Championships as Lukashenko’s PR project, human rights violations, attitude to Russian-Ukrainian conflict; the EU’s eastern policy”.
The press conference was organised by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Solidarity with Belarus Information Office, and the Polish Journalists’ Association. Special guests at the press conference were representatives of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (Minsk), the Belarusian Association of Journalists (Minsk), Viasna Human Rights Centre (Minsk), and Solidarity with Belarus Information Office (Warsaw).