Anatol Shumchanka, three journalists arrested in Minsk


Anatol Shumchanka, leader of a small business association called Perspektyva, and three journalists were arrested in Minsk on Thursday as market vendors across Belarus are staging a one-day strike against the introduction of new certification rules for imported clothing and footwear within the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Mr. Shumchanka, Ihar Karney, a reporter for the Belarus Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ales Sivy, a reporter for the private newspaper Narodnaya Volya, and one more journalist were intercepted by police at about 12:30 p.m. while driving to the Parking shopping center in downtown Minsk. Mr. Shumchanka is currently unavailable by telephone. The four people are believed to have been taken to the Savetski district police station.

Thousands of small business owners with sole entrepreneur status in Minsk, Mahilyow, Homyel, Brest, Polatsk, Kastsyukovichy, and Baranavichy are known to have gone on strike at the suggestion of Perspektyva.

The Parking shopping center and stalls selling goods other than food at the Zhdanovichy market just outside the capital city were closed on Thursday morning. Mr. Shumchanka participated in a rally held by about 400 protesters at the Zhdanovichy market. After the rally was over, the Tsentralny district police station’s deputy chief approached Mr. Shumchanka and announced that police officers wanted to talk to him in their room at the marketplace. However, after hearing that he was not being arrested, Mr. Shumchanka said that he would not have any conversations with police officers and drove away.

Approved by the Commission of the Customs Union and scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2013, the new certification rules prohibit the sale of clothes and footwear without a special label confirming their compliance with the Customs Union`s safety standards. The sellers will be required to submit samples of their goods to laboratories for testing and pay the certification costs.

Small business owners across Belarus have condemned the rules as unfair, stressed that manufacturers and not sellers should pay the costs and expressed readiness to shut up shop, stop paying taxes and stage large-scale protests starting July 1 if their demands are ignored.

The Belarusian government announced last week that it would adopt a directive delaying the introduction of the rules by one year.

Speaking on the sidelines of a business forum in Minsk on Monday, Andrei Polozkov, of the Eurasian Economic Commission's Department for Technical Regulation and Accreditation, warned that the directive would be illegal. If Minsk wants the introduction of the rules to be postponed, it should write to the Eurasian Economic Commission, detailing its arguments, he said. // BelaPAN