Strasbourg court bars France from deporting couple alleged to have been subjected to political persecution in Belarus

According to Y.P., while in Belarus, he was repeatedly arrested and beaten up by the police for his activities as a member of the Belarusian Popular Front...

The European Court of Human Rights has barred France from deporting a Belarusian couple alleged to have been persecuted in their home country for their opposition activities, BelaPAN reports.

According to the press office of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court found that, by removing the family to Belarus, France would violate Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.

Citizens of Belarus who resided in Mahilyow until 2005, Y.P. and his wife, L.P., currently live in France as illegal immigrants, the press office said.

They are an engineer and a school teacher who are 44 and 43 years of age, respectively.

According to Y.P., while in Belarus, he was repeatedly arrested and beaten up by the police for his activities as a member of the Belarusian Popular Front. In February 1999, he was allegedly beaten up for acts of "hooliganism." In October, he was detained and beaten for participated in a major demonstration in downtown Minsk.

Following his election as "chairman of the party’s [Belarusian Popular Front's] central committee in Mogilev [Mahilyow]" in 2002, Y.P. was allegedly "attacked" by police. In October 2004, he was allegedly taken to a forest by police officers and beaten unconscious.

Between 2002 and 2004 he filed applications with German and Norwegian authorities in an unsuccessful bid to obtain asylum. Y.P. also claimed to have been subjected to violence when he was placed under house arrest on the eve of the 2004 parliamentary elections and a referendum. His son, who is also a member of the Belarusian Popular Front, was arrested on various occasions, including in October 2004 when he was handing out pamphlets against constitutional amendments that would remove the two-term limit on presidency. A few months before that, the young man sustained a skull injury after being arrested for taking part in an anti-government demonstration.

In February 2005, on arriving in the French city of Strasbourg, the couple immediately lodged an application for asylum with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, which was refused on the grounds that Y.P. had not given a sufficiently detailed account of his political involvement and the alleged persecution.

According to medical certificates drawn up in Strasbourg in the autumn of 2005, Y.P. had a scar on his forehead and L.P. was suffering from “severe anxiety and depression, directly linked to the trauma to which she [had been] subjected in Belarus.” The applicants’ son also underwent surgery in Strasbourg for an injury to his right arm.

The Refugee Appeals Board, to which the applicants appealed, upheld the refusal of the asylum application. The family then traveled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They were removed from Denmark to France, where orders for their deportation were issued in 2007 and 2008. In March 2008 the couple's son, born in 2006, was admitted to hospital in Paris because of his family's precarious living conditions.

In April 2008, following a request for review by the applicants, who argued that a return to Belarus would result in their being imprisoned for between two and five years, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons again refused them asylum.

After being placed in the Rouen administrative detention centre, the couple lodged a request with the European Court of Human Rights seeking the suspension of the order for their removal.

The court found that "the extent of Y.P.'s involvement in campaigning was sufficiently demonstrated by his activities in Mogilev [Mahilyow]." "Furthermore, the likelihood that information about him and his family would be made available to the Belarus authorities should they return was reinforced by the brutality and intimidation to which their son had been subjected. Their application for asylum in France was also liable to be seen as "discrediting Belarus," an offence punishable by imprisonment under the Belarus Criminal Code. The members of Y.P.'s family might also be at risk of persecution purely on account of their association with him."
The judgment may be appealed to the Court's Grand Chamber within three months.

In an interview with BelaPAN, Ryhor Kastusyow, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, said that he did not know who Y.P. could possibly be. Mr. Kastusyow was elected chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front's Mahilyow city organization in 2002.