REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS FOR SEPTEMBER 2004
REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS FOR SEPTEMBER 2004
September 2004 was defined with activation of repressions and pressurization in connection with the upcoming election and referendum that were appointed on 17 October. The harassment of informal youth organizations increased due to the fact that these organizations distribute alternative information and agitate against giving Lukashenka the possibility to run for the third presidential term. The pressurization of activists of political parties and public associations and the control over mass media increased. Flats of public activists were searched without orders of prosecutor’s offices.
At 9 p.m. on 7 September all four Belarusian TV-channels – BT, Lad, ONT and STV broadcast the appeal of president to citizens of Belarus, in which he declared referendum in order to stay president for the third term athwart Belarusian Constitution. The referendum is combined with the Parliamentary election that will take place on 17 October.
We should remind that article 82 of Belarusian Constitutions states: “President is elected for five years… One person can be president for not more than two terms”. Aliaksandr Lukashenka has been elected president of Belarus twice – in 1994 and 2001.
The question that is put to the referendum is formulated in the following way:
“Do you allow the first president of the Republic of Belarus Aliaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka to participate in the presidential election in the capacity of candidate and do you accept the first part of article 81 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus in the following edition: “President is elected for five years directly by the people on the basis of common, free, equal and direct electoral right by secret vote?”
1. Liquidation of political parties and pressurization of political activists
During the check-ups that were conducted by the justice board of executive committees on 15 and 16 September there were liquidated regional organizational structures of Belarusian People’s Front (2 units), United Civil Party (more than 10), Party of Communists of Belarus (8), Belarusian Social Democratic Party (10). The check-ups were made in connection with the nomination of candidates for the election by the units. As a result of the liquidations the nominated candidates weren’t registered.
2. Harassment of human rights activists
On 16 September, the fifth anniversary of the forced disappearance of the vice-speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation Viktar Hanchar and the head of the “KrasiCo” firm Anatol Krasowski the police detained the human rights activists Tatsiana Reviaka (Human Rights Center “Viasna”), Hary Pahaniayla (Belarusian Helsinki Committee) and the journalist of “Interfax” information agency Aliaksey Bukchyn.
The human rights activists were detained during the action, the aim of which was to demand objective investigation of the circumstances of forced kidnaps.
Viktar Hanchar’s wife Zinaida Hanchar and the human rights activists came to the prosecutor’s office at 8.30 p.m. (workers of the office usually come there at that time). Tatsiana Reviaka handed out to the workers of the prosecutor’s office the book “Belarus. Undisclosed Crimes of Newest History” which contains the report of the special reported of PACE political committee Christos Pourgourides “About the missing persons in Belarus” with evidence of relation of the highest-level officials, including the prosecutor general Viktar Sheyman to the crimes.
The human rights activists were taken to Minsk Tsentralny Borough Board of Internal Affairs, where the police composed protocols for violation of article 172-3 of the Code of Administrative Violations (distribution of printed production without issue data, the content of which is aimed at doing harm to the state and public order, rights and legal interests of citizens).
On 17 October the Ministry of Justice sued to the Supreme Court of Belarus for liquidation of Belarusian Helsinki Committee. According to the ministry, the committee is to be liquidated for the application of the lawyers of this organization to the Supreme Court with the request to find decree #431 “About appointment of republican referendum” invalid since the moment of its edition. Belarusian Helsinki Committee also applied to the Constitutional Court, the Chamber of Representatives, the Soviet of the Republic, the Supreme Economic Court and the Soviet of Ministers of Belarus – the bodies who have the right to apply to the Constitutional Court. They asked them to raise the question about the compliance of this decree with the Constitution. In its application BHC reminded that actions aimed at change of the constitutional order can be qualified unconstitutional seizure of power.
3. Administrative punishments for participation in peaceful street processions
At 4 p.m. on 1 October in Kastrychnitskaya Square there took place the youth action in support of Belarusian language. About 100 persons took part in it. Mainly there were pupils of the closed Belarusian Humanitarian Lyceum and activists of youth organizations, such as “Zubr”.
When action participants tried to unroll their posters, the police started detentions. The head of the lyceum self-government Franak Fiachorka (son of the BPF head Vintsuk Viachorka) was beaten and detained. The surname of one of the policemen who detained Viachorka is Lipninski.
“Viasna” lawyer Valiantsin Stefanovich tried to defend Franak and was detained as well. The police confiscated posters from the action participants, after which the latter ones went to Yanka Kupala Square. On the way the police also detained the lyceum teacher Liavon Barshchewski.
On 7 September the authorities organized the meeting of solidarity with victims of the terrorist act in Bestlan. Pupils of several schools were taken to Kastrychnitskaya Square together with their teachers and activists of Belarusian Republican Youth Union.
At 9 p.m. the appeal of president Lukashenka concerning declaration the referendum for giving him the possibility to run for third presidency was broadcast to the action participants at the large monitor that stands in the square. After the end of the broadcast two dozens of youngsters started to shout “Shame!”. Policemen in plain clothes ran towards them. They detained the activist of “Young Front” Zmitser Dashkevich, carried him to their bus and took to Minsk Tsentralny Borough Board of Internal Affairs.
On 8 September judge Yasinovich found Dashkevich guilty in violation of article 156 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus (disorderly conduct) and sentenced him to 10 days of jail.
On 17 September eight activists of the youth movement “Zubr” were detained during the concert of Viacheslav Butusov in Minsk. Darya Maldavanava, Aliaksandr Ushko, Mikita Sasim, Maxim Hromaw and Tatsiana Yelavaya were detained for raising a flag with “Zubr” logo. Alena Kormach, Zinaida Kryvanos and Artsiom Salawyow were detained for distribution of the “Zubr” newspaper.
On 19 September the police detained Zmitser Levanewski, son of the head of the republican strike committee of enterpreneurs Valery Levanewski for distribution of flysheets at the Kalhasny market of the town of Lida. Z. Levanewski was taken to the police board of Lida and searched there. The police confiscated all printed production he had ("Pradprymalnik" ("Enterpreneur") bulletin and flysheets) and the CDs with the recording of the trial of his father, Valery Levanewski, sentenced to two years of jail for “insult of honor and dignity of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
One of the coordinators of the “Zubr” movement Mikita Sasim was sentenced to 15 days of jail. He was tried in absentia on 24 September for alleged violation of article 156 of the Code of Administrative Violations (small disorderly conduct). The police stopped Sasim on 22 September and asked to show what was in his bag. When they found paint balloons, they kept him at the police all night long and then charged with hooliganism. On 29 September Mikita Sasim was detained in Minsk and taken to the detention center in Akrestsin Street.
On 24 September Aliaksandr Salawyan and Uladzimir Pleshchanka held an unsanctioned picket. Members of Christian Conservative Party held posters: “Empty polling stations are the best means against fraud”, and “don’t go to the polls – they will cheat anyway”. In an hour the picketers were detained by police.
Special service policemen who took the activists to Chyhunachny police department admitted they had the order to detain the picketers and stop their events.
When they were detained for the first time, on September 20, the police threatened the activists they would be taken to court and tried for holding a street action. After the second detention, on September 22, Uladzimir Pleshchanka was tried immediately and fined almost 3 million BYR (1 400 USD).
The trial after their third detention on September 24 took place right away. Chyhunachny Borough Court found both CCP members guilty of organizing an unauthorized picket, and sentenced Aliaksr Salawyan and Uladzimir Pleshchanka to 10 days of arrest.
Son of the leader of the National Strike Committee of Entrepreneurs Valery Levanewski was detained on 26 September in Pinsk at the local market. Police officer A. Lipski and an unknown man in civilian clothes took Zmitser Levanewski first to the market administration office, and then to Pinsk police department.
The interrogation was carried out by the police officer, who introduced himself as Viktar Hrynko. When Zmitser Levanewski asked to explain one of the questions to him, Hrynko gave him a hard blow on the back.
The interrogation was continued by junior district police inspector Lipski. He has drawn up a report of personal search, and a report of administrative offence (Article 172 part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offences – Distribution of printed materials without publisher’s imprint). During the personal search the police confiscated 112 Predprinimatel (Entrepreneur) newsletters and 245 leaflets about the trial over Valery Levanewski and Alaksandr Vasilyew’s, sentenced to 2 years of prison for “public insult of president Lukashenka”.
On September 28 Maskowski court of Minsk ruled to fine Siarzhuk Semianiuk and Yury Sidun for participation in the Homeless Students March. On 16 September the police detained 3 members of Belarusian Students Association: Siarzhuk Semianiuk, member of the BSA Council, Yury Sidun, and Ales Vasilewski. They were reported for violation of Art 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences: resistance to police during detention. The trials started on 17eptember 17, but all three demanded a lawyer, and the hearings were postponed to 28 September.
The students were detained near the building of Physics Department of Belarusian State University. The police stopped about 30 students who marched with bed-sheets, saucepans, electric boilers, and other things symbolizing a student dormitory. In the front of the group 3 students carried a folding bed. About 15 policemen attacked the students with the folding bed. They did not explain the reasons for detention. The action was to draw the public attention to the problems of students, in particular, the lack of dormitories. Belarusian Students Association will continue to fight for students rights despite any obstacles.
4. Disappearance of public activists in Belarus
On 13 September Zinaida Hanchar, wife of the missing politician Viktar Hanchar, filed to the administration of three Belarusian TV channels – National State TV and Radio Company of the Republic of Belarus, close corporation “Second National TV Channel” and close corporation “Capital TV” the requests to give her possibility to speak in the ether of the TV channels on 16 September, the fifth anniversary of the kidnap of her husband.
She defined the aims of her speech:
1. to inform the public, the audience of Your channel about the situation with the kidnap of my husband, well-known public activist, opponent of the present president A.R. Lukashenka. I’d like to point at the motives of the crime against my husband during the rule of A.R. Lukashenka.
2. to express my views concerning the declared referendum, the results of which can result in non-disclosure of the political crime against my husband and evasion of the persons that have relation to it.”
Volha Zavadskaya sued to Republican Prosecutor’s Office with the demand to bring the criminal case concerning the disappearance of her son Zmitser Zavadski because on 20 July A. Lukashenka publicly stated he had materials that could turn Zavadski’s case into anti-case.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 7 September 2004 the head of the republican strike committee of entrepreneurs Valery Levanewski and his substitute Aliaksandr Vasilyew were sentenced to two years of penal colony for insult to president Aliaksandr Lukashenka, accompanied by charges in felony (part 2 of article 368 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus “Public insult to president of the Republic of Belarus”). Aliaksandr Vasilyew was also judged for the organization of the protest action of entrepreneurs on 1 May. The court also ruled to confiscate the computers that were taken away from Levanewski and Vasilyew in favor of the state and exact from them 643 2 rubles (about $300) of the court expenses.
Well-known Belarusian politician and public figure Mikhail Marynich was charged with another two criminal offences: theft or damage of documents, stamps, seals (Art 377 part 2) and larceny committed with abuse of power, by an organized group or at an especially high rate (Art 210 part 4).
In particular, he was charged with stealing documents which allegedly are a State secret, and taking office equipment, which had been handed over for free temporary use to Business Initiative NGO headed by him.
Earlier Marynich was charged under Art 295 part 2 of the Criminal Code (illegal actions with firearms, ammunition and explosives).
6. Interference of the authorities with the activity of mass media and liberty of speech
The chief editor of the independent newspaper “Birzha Informacii” Alena Rawbetskaya was summoned to Hrodna Leninski District Prosecutor’s Office concerning the publication of information concerning the upcoming referendum in the number of the newspaper for 9 September.
They informed the journalist about initiation of a criminal case against her upon part 10 of article 172 of the Administrative Code (distribution of the information that insults honor and dignity of president of the Republic of Belarus). According to Rawbetskaya, the pretensions of the prosecutor’s office concerned the following phrase of the publication: “The referendum (without which it is impossible to receive the third term) that is declared by Mr. President is a challenge to the society. One needs not only impudence, but also scorn for people for such a step…”
The Ministry of Information ordered to suspend the issue of the non-state newspaper “Narodny Predprinimatel” that has been issued for five years in Navapolatsk and distributed all over Belarus. The issue of the non-state “Regionalnaya Gazeta” was suspended as well.
Nina Buinitskaya, deputy editor-in-chief of Udarny Front newspaper, was fired on September 20. Udarny Front is a state-run newspaper founded by Shklow district executive committee. The newspaper chief editor Alexander Bialasaw confirmed to Belarusian Association of Journalists that his deputy was dismissed. According to Bialasaw, it was her own decision to quit the job. At the same time, according to BAJ Monitoring Service, the reason for dismissal was “unchecked material” published in the newspaper.
On September 18 Udarny Front newspaper published a reader’s letter signed “B. Kastsiuk, veteran of labor”. The letter was published in the column: “Referendum – the sound decision”. The author of the letter gave ardent support to the idea of referendum and praised Lukashenka’s intent to ask people for advice. “B. Kastsiuk, veteran of labor” attached a poem where he addressed the state leader and pledged his allegiance.
However, when the newspaper came out it turned out that the published poem was an “acrostic”: first letters form a separate sentence which has a radically opposite meaning than the poem itself. In this case the first letters read: Lukashenka is murderer. Ms. Buinitskaya was made responsible for the incident because the editor-in-chief had a day-off.
7. Violation of the right to education
The police together with the head of housing service No. 5 paid a visit to the flat in Frantsysk Skaryna Avenue, rented by Viktar Savitski, father of the pupil of the liquidated Belarusian Humanitarian Lyceum Katsiaryna Rakovich. They demanded from the pupils to leave the flat together with the teacher of mathematics. The children refused to do it.
The head of the housing service warned that he would find the evidence of misuse of the rented premises and evict the tenant for it.
8. Non-admission of representative of the international community to the country
Tthe OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti was planning to make an assessment visit to Belarus regarding the media situation. However, Belarusian authorities denied Mr. Haraszti a visa, - reports Belarusian Association of Journalists.
In July the OSCE media expert informed both Belarusian foreign minister and OSCE official representative in Belarus Viktar Haysionak of his plans to visit Belarus. Throughout July and August Mr. Haraszti was successfully discussing the details of the visit with the officials in charge. He agreed to change the dates and the term of his trip, as well as the program of the seminar, as Belarusian authorities required. After all, the very seminar was cancelled.
Not giving up his plans, Mr. Haraszti kept waiting for the official response from Belarusian officials. No answer followed...
9. Violation of freedom of conscience
Maskowski borough administration refused to lease halls for public worships to Minsk “New Life” and the “Church of Jesus Christ” Churches (Association of Churches of Full Gospel Christians), as well as “The New Testament” and “Hope of Deliverance” Churches (Union of Evangelical Faith Christians). The official reason for refusal was that the religious communities “fail to provide sufficient measures for establishing post-control regime in churches, public security, and medical services”. Until this time the believers gathered in 2 buildings in the center of the city. The rejection document was signed by head of Maskowski borough administration Ya. M. Dukar and executive administrator N. U. Bazhenaw.
Pastors of Evangelical Churches claim the demands of the authorities are absurd. In their opinion, the relations between local administrations and Churches are dominated by a “telephone law”. “In such situation it is surprising to hear the statements of the Committee for Religious Affairs that we have a calm situation in the sphere of religious rights and freedoms”, says Barys Charnahlaz, pastor of Minsk “Church of Jesus Christ”.
10. Unsanctioned searches
On 27 September the pre-electoral headquarters of the BPF candidate Uladzimir Maley in Brest was searched without sanction.
On 28 September the same happened to the headquarters of the candidate of the United Civil Party Henadz Ananyew. The police confiscated examples of printed production.
On 28 September in Shklow there was searched the flat of Aliaksandr Shcharbak, the head of the support group of the BPF candidate Ryhor Kostusew. The same day searches were conducted at the flats of the candidate’s proxies in the town of Bialynichy and the village of Fashchawka (Shklow district).
Information Department of HRC “Viasna”