Human Rights Situation in Belarus: October 2020
- during the month, the authorities continued to routinely prosecute citizens for political reasons. There are 101 political prisoners at the moment, and the number continues to increase. The total number of people targeted by criminal cases in the election and post-election period is more than 700 people;
- the release from custody of seven political prisoners who took part in a “roundtable” with Aliaksandr Lukashenka in the KGB pre-trial prison did not significantly change the repressive policies pursued by the country's authorities and was clearly propagandistic;
- the authorities continued the practice of forcibly dispersing peaceful protests and using violence against their participants;
- the total number of citizens detained for attending meetings during the month is at least 3,000. The total number of persons detained for participating in peaceful assemblies since the beginning of the election campaign is over 16,000;
- on October 2, Andrei Chapiuk, a volunteer at the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was charged under part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (participation in riots). Just like Viasna’s human rights activist Marfa Rabkova who was arrested earlier, Chapiuk is in custody in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk. During the month, there were other reports of pressure on human rights defenders in connection with their human rights activities, as well as pressure on lawyers involved in politically motivated criminal cases;
- The prosecutor's office and the Investigative Committee have not opened a single criminal case to investigate reports of systematic and widespread torture of individuals detained between 9 and 12 August. At the same time, law enforcement officials continue to use torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against detained protesters;
- in response to the beginning of strikes or attempts to hold them, the authorities intensified pressure on people involved in striking activities or calling to join them. There were numerous cases of dismissals and expulsions of active members of striking initiatives;
- in general, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" notes a further intensification of repressions and a deterioration of the human rights crisis in the country.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
Criminal prosecution of citizens is one of the main types of repression used by the Belarusian authorities during the election and post-election period.
During October authorities continued to prosecute politically motivated citizens, indicating the continuing acute phase of the human rights crisis in the country.
Investigators continue to initiate criminal proceedings under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots). Experts of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" have repeatedly disagreed with the qualification of the demonstrations on August 9-12 as riots, as the protesters did not commit the actions that constitute the disposition of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (arson, destruction of property, etc.), nor did they engage in armed resistance to police officers.
On October 1, European Belarus activists Andrei Voinich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich were formally charged under Part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code.
More criminal cases were opened under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them).
On October 7, human rights organizations in Belarus recognized 20 people involved in criminal cases under Art. 293 and 342 of the Criminal Code to be political prisoners.
On October 10, Aliaksandr Lukashenka met with a number of political prisoners in the KGB prison in Minsk. The meeting was attended by Viktar and Eduard Babarykas, lawyers Maksim Znak and Illia Salei, well-known blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski and others.
The government-controlled media described the meeting as dialogue between Lukashenka and his political opponents on the occasion of a widely advertised constitutional reform.
Seven political prisoners who took part in the meeting, including members of the Coordination Council Illia Salei and Liliya Ulasava, were later released from the KGB pre-trial detention center to be placed under house arrest.
In total, according to the Prosecutor General, more than 650 criminal cases were opened on charges of participating in protests and resistance to the police, while the total number of politically motivated cases, according to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, exceeded 700. Viasna knows the names of more than 400 people. 101 of them have already been recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights community.
Human rights organizations in Belarus continue to demand that the Belarusian authorities release all political prisoners immediately and end repression in the country.
Pressure on human rights activists
On October 6 in Salihorsk, police detained human rights activist Leanid Markhotka, a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
The city court later ordered to detain the activist for 10 days under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (organization or participation in an unauthorized mass event).
Earlier, Leanid Marhotka was persecuted for his human rights activities in the post-election period. In less than two months since the presidential election, in which Markhotka was a long-term observer of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections initiative, he has served 30 days of administrative detention.
On October 2, Andrei Chapiuk, a volunteer at the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was detained in Minsk by officers of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBAZIK). His apartment was searched. On October 9, Chapiuk was charged under Part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (participation in mass riots) and remanded in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk.
During the entire presidential campaign and after the election, members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" have faced pressure and persecution from the authorities. This included criminal charges, administrative arrests and detention, blocking of the organization's website, etc.
On September 17, GUBAZIK officers detained and took into custody a member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer service Marfa Rabkova. On September 25, she was charged under Part 3 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code. Since then, Marfa has been held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk.
On October 15, during the March of People with Disabilities in Minsk, police detained Aleh Hrableuski, a lawyer with the human rights organization Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who was later sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention for participating in an unauthorized rally.
Viasna stresses that the activities of repressed human rights activists were exclusively peaceful, as they were aimed at helping people persecuted for their political beliefs and protecting their rights.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee held a press conference entitled “The Right to Defense and Lawyers in the Conditions of the Human Rights Crisis in Belarus.” The main topics of the conversation were the assessment of the implementation of the right to defense and the state of the bar in the acute human rights crisis in the country, confrontation and obstacles to legal assistance to citizens, pressure and harassment in connection with their professional activities.
Violations of the right to peaceful assembly
According to the Interior Ministry, more than two and a half thousand protesters were detained on weekends and October 26, the day of the national strike announced by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. About 2,000 of them were held in detention centers. According to the Human Rights Center "Viasna", in October, courts heard the administrative charges of 1,868 people. Of them, it is known about 979 individuals fined a total of about 370 thousand Belarusian rubles; 474 people were awarded terms of administrative detention for a total of 5,907 days.
Protesters were also detained in their homes, as the police raided their apartments and sized personal property.
Thus, the authorities continue to grossly violate the freedom of peaceful assembly, as protesters are subjected to violence and subsequently to illegal penalties for violating unjustified prohibitions.
On October 12, the March of Retired Persons took place in Minsk and other cities. Tear gas, stun grenades and other riot control gear were used against the protesters in Minsk. Riot gear was also used against doctors and students who took part in a parallel solidarity action. Detentions took place in different parts of the capital in the evening. Viasna is aware of more than 120 detained participants.
Persecution of journalists
On October 3, in Homieĺ, police detained the editor-in-chief of the Silnye Novosti website, Hanna Yakshtas, and her husband Dzianis, who also works for the outlet, while their home was searched. After the search, IT and journalist equipment was taken from the house, and Hanna and Dzianis were taken to the police department; their minor children remained at home unattended.
On October 8, Aliaksandr Vialitchanka, a videographer for the Novy Chas newspaper and the Green Portal, was detained in Minsk. He was accused of participating in an unauthorized rally under Part 1 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code, despite the fact that the journalist had a valid certificate of a freelance correspondent of the newspaper Novy Chas. The journalist's case was considered by Judge Viktoryia Shabunia, known for her biased rulings against journalists and opposition activists. Vialitchanka was sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention, as a result.
Employees of BelaPAN and Tut.by Vadzim Zamirouski and Usevalad Zarubin, together with Artsiom Mayorau (Belorusy I Rynok), Ales Liubianchuk (Belsat), Darya Spevak from Onliner were arbitrarily arrested.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Press Club and the United Media Association of the Regional Press Publishers issued a joint statement demanding to investigate all cases of violations of the rights of journalists. They also called to abandon the practice of arbitrarily detaining journalists in the performance of their professional duties. From May 9 to October 12, more than 400 violations of journalists’ rights were documented, the statement said.
On September 30, journalist and human rights activist Maryna Kastylianchanka was arbitrarily detained in Minsk.
The death penalty
On the occasion of the International Day against the Death Penalty, which is celebrated worldwide on October 10, the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus" held its annual Week against the Death Penalty. This year, the Week, which lasted from October 5 to 10, was held under the slogan "The death penalty is an element of the violence system."
The festival "Rock for Life. Musicians for the introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty" was held online on October 10. Belarusian bands and performers gathered on one stage, including NIZKIZ, Dai Darogu!, Petlya Pristrastiya, Lera Yaskevich, Uladzimir Puhach, Tor Band, and Razbitaye Sertsa Patsana.
Freedom of expression
The partial blocking of the website of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" remained in place in October. The Ministry of Information failed to refer to any specific grounds for the ban, limiting itself to a reference to a notification by the Operations and Analysis Center, an authority run by the Presidential Administration. Several independent websites were also blocked, including the website of the independent news agency BelaPAN.
On October 20, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk ordered, at the initiative of GUBAZIK, to find the NEXTA-Live Telegram Channel and the NEXTA logo extremist content.
In September, the Ministry of Information filed a lawsuit to deprive TUT.BY of its media outlet status and suspended this status for three months, from October 1 to December 30. The Supreme Court will hear the outlet’s appeal against the warnings that were arbitrarily issued for minor errors on the website.
Torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment
On Thursday, October 8, representatives of human rights organizations presented a report "Belarus after the Election", which contains information on the human rights situation in Belarus in the post-election period. Experts focused on human rights to life, personal freedom and humane treatment, as well as freedom from torture. The report also touches on violations of the rights of journalists and children.
The use of torture and ill-treatment by police officers does not stop. A 41-year-old sculptor from Fanipaĺ Dzmitry Charnyshou was detained in the evening of October 7, when he was painting a red line at a bus stop near the city. He was beaten, sprayed with tear gas, urged to confess how much he was paid and who the organizer was, and then sentenced to a fine of 135 rubles and 5 days in jail. Dzmitry told Viasna about his detention, beating and threats.
Five 17-year-old students of several Minsk universities were detained on October 27 after a rally of solidarity with students held in the BSU’s campus. Four of them were severely beaten by security forces in a police bus, after which all of them were diagnosed with concussions, and some with craniocerebral injuries, broken noses and other injuries. Four students were charged under two articles of the Administrative Code: 23.34 (participation in an unauthorized mass event) and 23.4 (disobedience to a lawful order or requirement of an official in the performance of his official duties). The student told Viasna how they faced the brutality of the security forces.
People who were serving terms of administrative detention for exercising their basic rights noted the inhumane conditions of their detention, which the Interior Ministry representatives deliberately organized for them in detention centers.