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Prominent human rights defender expelled

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, March 17, 2011 - Belarusian authorities should immediately stop blacklisting human rights defenders from neighboring countries to prevent monitoring of human rights in Belarus, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 17, 2011, Belarusian authorities ordered Andrei Yurov, a leading Russian human rights defender visiting Belarus, to leave the country within 24 hours. He is the second human rights activist the government has banned from the country this month.

"Andrei Yurov is being punished for doing nothing more than monitoring human rights in Belarus," said Rachel Denber, acting Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "His expulsion is part and parcel of the government's post-election crackdown on civil society."

Since December 2010, Yurov has headed the International Observation Mission, a group of nongovernmental activists from several countries that has been monitoring the human rights situation in Belarus prior to and after the December 19 election.

On March 16, at approximately 9 p.m., three officials who introduced themselves as being from the Migration Service of Belarus detained Yurov at the International Observation Mission's office in Minsk. Yurov, who is also a member of the Expert Council under the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, has been traveling frequently to Belarus during the past few months for work.

The officials brought Yurov to a police station, where he was held for the night. At 11 a.m. on March 17, police released Yurov after handing him an official notice that he was added to a list of people barred from entering Belarus and "recommending" that he leave the country within 24 hours. Police did not charge Yurov with a crime or other offense, nor did they explain the grounds on which he was effectively being expelled or denied entry to Belarus in the future.

On March 9, another member of the International Observation Mission, Maxim Kitsyuk, a Ukrainian national, was refused entry at the border while entering Belarus via train from Kyiv. The border guards informed Kitsyuk that he was not allowed to enter the country and sent him back to Ukraine without any explanation about the reasons for denying him entry.

Both Russia and Ukraine have a no-visa regime with Belarus.

According to a 1999 Cabinet of Ministers' decree, the rules for barring foreigners from entering Belarus are stipulated in official guidelines established by the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB), the national security agency, jointly with the State Border Guard Service, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Belarusian authorities have told journalists and individuals who have been blacklisted that the guidelines and the list are not public.

In a March 14 report on Belarus, Human Rights Watch said that while the government has continually tightened control over civil society for many years, harassment and persecution increased in the wake of the December 19 presidential election.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which is in session in Geneva this month, should adopt a resolution condemning the post-election crackdown and setting out the steps it expects the Belarusian government to take to improve the situation, Human Rights Watch said.

"Belarus's international partners should press the government to stop the post-election abuses, including the blatant attempts to hamper human rights reporting," said Denber. "A strong statement by the Human Rights Council on Belarus should be a priority."

The Human Rights Watch report documented attacks on local human rights organizations and independent media outlets, including office raids, confiscation of equipment, and threats of criminal prosecution.

"Belarus authorities should immediately end all forms of harassment of human rights defenders and ensure that they can work unhindered," Denber said. "Instead of stifling dissent the authorities should foster an environment in which civil society can operate freely."

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