INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BELARUS UPDATE
INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Edited by Victor Cole
Vol. 5, No. 36
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Belarus Not Invited To Commemorative Session In New York.
- Belarus Seat At OSCE PA Will Remain Vacant
- PACE Sets Up Committee To Investigate Disappearances
- Missing Politician’s Wife Wants Him Declared Dead
- Activist Jailed For Commemorating Journalist’s Disappearance
- Convicted Journalists Leave Hometown To Serve Their Terms
- Four Krishna Followers Jailed For Requesting Registration
- Regime Backs Iraqi Resistance Against U.S. War Threats
- Putin Urges Action On Russia-Belarus Union Plan
- Pro-Lukashenko Youth, Unite!
- Market Vendors Protest Tax Rises, Insurance Fees
- IKEA Backs Off Plans To Invest In Belarus
- HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS-
BELARUS NOT INVITED TO COMMEMORATIVE SESSION IN NEW YORK.
President Bush visited New York City on September 11 to pay a tribute to those whose lives were lost one year ago at the World Trade Center in the terrorist attacks against the U.S. The U.S. President will lay wreaths at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., crash sites, and will host a reception for heads of the international delegations. Among those not invited to the Winter Garden event are representatives of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and Libya, all nations on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, as well as leaders from Burma and Belarus, whose human-rights records raise concerns. (The New York Times, September 8)
BELARUS SEAT AT OSCE PA WILL REMAIN VACANT
Bruce George, chair of the British House of Commons Defense Committee and the OSCE PA’s newly elected President, informed the OSCE Permanent Council on September 5 that members of the OSCE PA’s Standing Committee decided that Belarus’s seat at the OSCE PA will remain vacant. The issue will be considered again during the next session, which is to be held in February 2003. (OSCE, September 5)
COMMITTEE SET UP TO INVESTIGATE DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUS
The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights discussed the human rights situation in Belarus during a meeting on September 2 in Paris and decided to set up an ad hoc sub-committee to clarify the circumstances of political disappearances in Belarus. At a PACE session scheduled for September 23-27, 2002, the sub-committee will elect its chair. One of the most likely candidates is Sergei Kovalev, a prominent human rights defender, former political prisoner of the Soviet era, and a deputy of the Russian State Duma.
In May 2002, the wives and mothers of several prominent victims of the Lukashenko regime and leaders of the Belarusian democratic opposition urged the Committee to establish an independent international commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and probable deaths of Victor Gonchar, a 13th Supreme Soviet deputy chair and a high profile antigovernment politician, who disappeared on September 16, 1999; businessman Anatoly Krasovsky, who disappeared along with Gonchar; Yuri Zakharenko, the former Minister of Internal Affairs, founder of an independent officers’ organization critical of the Lukashenko government, who disappeared on May 7, 1999; and Dmitry Zavadsky, a Belarusian cameraman for the Russian public television station ORT, who disappeared on July 7, 2000. “We have exhausted the possibilities to learn the truth about the fate of our husbands,” they wrote. (PACE, September 2)
MISSING POLITICIAN’S WIFE WANTS HIM DECLARED DEAD
On September 2, a Minsk court began hearing a lawsuit filed by Olga Zakharenko, the wife of Yuri Zakharenko, the former Minister of Internal Affairs. Olga Zakharenko, who had received political asylum in Germany, said that she believes that Belarusian secret agents and Lukashenko were behind her husband’s disappearance and wants the court to declare him dead. Vladimir Borodach, a member of an independent committee established by the democratic opposition to investigate Zakharenko’s disappearance, said the commission believes the general is dead and that his death was a result of his opposition to Lukashenko. Official investigations have so far failed to find those missing, but several Belarusian police and security officials have defected recently and said that the disappeared people had likely been murdered on orders from the high-ranking Lukashenko officials. (Charter 97, September 2)
ACTIVIST JAILED FOR COMMEMORATING JOURNALIST’S DISAPPEARANCE
Dmitry Ivanovsky, deputy chair of the Grodno branch of the BPF Adradzhenne, was charged with violation of Art. 167, par. 1 (“participation in mass actions violating public order”) of the Belarusian Administrative Offences Code and sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment for taking part in a July 8 picket, the latest unauthorized protest in a series of actions staged by a network of activists called “Chain of People Who Care,” Viasna Human Rights Center reported. That day, local activists commemorated another year since the disappearance of journalist Dmitry Zavadsky in 2000 and demanded an impartial investigation into his disappearance. Yuri Istomin, chair of the Grodno branch of the United Civic Party, was fined 200,000 BYR (about $110) for the same offence. (Viasna Human Rights Center, September 2 )
CONVICTED JOURNALISTS LEAVE HOMETOWN TO SERVE THEIR TERMS
Mikola Markevich, editor-in-chief of Pahonya, a Grodno-based independent weekly newspaper, and Pavel Mazheiko, a journalist for the same newspaper, left Grodno on August 31 to serve their terms after being convicted in June 2002 of libeling Alexander Lukashenko under Art. 367 (2) of the Belarusian Criminal Code. The journalists were convicted in connection with an article in Pahonia printed in the run-up to September presidential elections, calling on voters not to support Lukashenko. The 11,000 issues were confiscated in the printing house before they could be distributed. Markevich and Mazheiko were sentenced to 2.5 years and two years of “restricted freedom” respectively. The sentences were later cut on appeal to one year for each journalist.
Markevich is to spend his year and a half in the town of Osipovichy, the Mogilev Region, while Mazheiko will serve his term in Zhlobin, the Gomel Region. Both are small, economically depressed towns located in the country’s east, in areas badly affected by the fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine. Dozens of friends and colleagues came to see them off.
The journalists compared their treatment to that of political prisoners during the reign of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Internal exile was one way Soviet authorities dealt with intellectuals who criticized the regime. “The parallels with the Stalin era are obvious,” Markevich said. “My grandfather was repressed, and now the Belarusian authorities are using the same methods.” Mazheiko said that after he exhausts his appeals in the Belarusian court system, he will appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Both journalists are required to start working within two weeks. Supposedly, they are free to choose any job they manage to find. However, when Mazheiko was offered a position with a local newspaper, Yury Kuzmich, chief of the Zhlobin Correctional Institution #1, where the journalist serves his term, prohibited him from accepting it. All efforts to find a teaching position and get hired by a local state-run construction company also failed, Mazheiko said.
Markevich also is still looking for a job. He was refused a position with a local school district and hopes to be employed by the local saw-mill. “You only stand a chance to land a job if you are a skilled technician,” he wrote to his colleagues. “Being a political prisoner only aggravates the situation.” (Belapan, Viasna Human Rights Center, August 31-September 5)
-RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS-
KRISHNA FOLLOWERS JAILED FOR REQUESTING REGISTRATION
Tatiana and Sergei Akadanovs, Dmitry Alisevich, and Aleksey Romanchuk, all members of the unregistered Hindu Shiva-Sakti community, the Light of Kailash, were sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment each for holding unauthorized demonstration, Belapan reported on September 3. Akadanovs and Alisevich were among twelve other believers who were arrested by the police for holding two unauthorized pickets on August 17 at the intersection of Frantsysk Skaryna Avenue and Lenin Street and on Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk. Holding placards that read: “No to State Orthodox Terror,” “Freedom for Religious Minorities,” and “Hands off Religious Minorities,” the protesters demanded to stop harassment of religious minorities and to register their community. Protesting the court’s decisions, the detainees went on a hunger strike. (Belapan, September 3)
- INTERNATIONAL NEWS-
REGIME BACKS IRAQI RESISTANCE AGAINST U.S. WAR THREATS
Leonid Kozik, the new chair of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, and head of the Joint Iraqi-Belarusian Committee, voiced the Lukashenko government’s support for Iraq’s resistance against U.S. threats to launch military actions on Iraq, the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported. During a meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on September 2, Kozik conveyed a message from Lukashenko to Hussein “concerning bilateral relations and the prospects of enhancing the economic cooperation between the two countries.”
During the meeting, Saddam Hussein gave his own explanation of why the U.S. was insisting on removing him from power - because Iraq was preventing it from controlling Middle East oil. “America thinks it must control the world,” Saddam said to Kozik. “America thinks if it controls the oil of the Middle East then it will control the world,” the Iraqi leader added.
Saddam Hussein accused the United States of deliberately blocking the economic ties between Iraq and Belarus by supporting the embargo on Iraq. “One of the most important reasons for imposing an embargo on Iraq is to deprive the Commonwealth of Independent States of any economic dealing with Iraq, because the United States knows the background of our relations,” Kozik was told. (INA, September 3)
PUTIN URGES ACTION ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION PLAN
Russian President Putin told his Belarusian counterpart on September 4 that integration between the two countries should remain a priority, the Moscow News reported. In a letter to Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said he is awaiting an answer to his proposals made at an August 14 meeting in Moscow on speeding up introduction of a single currency for Russia and Belarus. In the letter, Putin again reiterated the options for possible integration and proposed setting up a group with members of both countries to study the plans Greater integration between Russia and Belarus has been and remains a priority task of Russian politics, Putin wrote in the letter.
On August 14, Putin backtracked on his previous skepticism to a merger with Belarus and put forward two plans - one that would lead to unification in two years if approved in a referendum. Another plan would be closer cooperation similar to the European Union, with a common currency introduced in 2004, two years earlier than previously planned. Lukashenko, previously the main supporter of the union, responded that Putin’s proposals are unacceptable.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian leader accepted the diplomatic credentials of Alexander Blokhin, the newly appointed Russian ambassador to Belarus, Belapan reported on September 5. Lukashenko assured the Russian envoy that his country would never deviate from the 1999 Treaty on the Creation of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Blokhin affirmed the Belarusian leader that President Putin’s intentions are “to make every effort needed to promote closer ties between the two countries.” (The Moscow News, Belapan, September 4-5)
-AT HOME IN BELARUS-
PRO-LUKASHENKO YOUTH, UNITE!
The Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union, popularly referred to as Lukamol, a government-subsidized pro-Lukashenko youth organization, and the Belarusian Youth League, held a joint congress on September 6 in Minsk to publicly expressed their support to the Belarusian authoritarian ruler. The two organizations announced their decision to merge to “promote patriotism and loyal citizenry” among the Belarusian youth. Addressing the delegates, Alexander Lukashenko said that the unification of youth organizations is “one of the most important steps taken to consolidate the Belarusian society.” “It is conceptually important for me to see the Belarusian society united The three pillars of the unification are the local councils, the organized youth movement, and the revived trade unions,” Lukashenko said.(BBC, September 6)
MARKET VENDORS PROTEST TAX RISES, INSURANCE FEES
More than 60 percent of the country’s 180,000 registered market vendors in more than 20 cities across Belarus staged a strike on September 1, refusing to sell goods on one of the busiest shopping days of the week, reported Interfax. About 1,000 vendors gathered in the central market in Minsk, and banging spoons on plates demanded, “Give us work” and “No to Government Extortion.” The strikers said they were protesting an increase in taxes and insurance fees. “Authorities have declared war on us,” said in a statement the United Council of Belarusian Entrepreneurs, which organized the protest.
The September 1’s strike was planned as a one-day action, but vendor groups decided to prolong it indefinitely because there was no response from the government, Anatoly Shumchenko, a representative of the United Council of Entrepreneurs, told an AFP correspondent on September 4. “The authorities, as before, see us as a cow to be milked,” Shumchenko added.
Vladimir and Alexei Levonevsky, both juveniles and sons of Valery Levonevsky, head of the Belarusian Trade Union of Small-Business Owners, were arrested on August 29 in Mogilev while distributing a bulletin titled Predprinimatel (The Entrepreneur) among vendors at a local outdoor market, reported Belapan. The boys were taken to a police station and charged with distribution of the printed materials of an unregistered media outlet. All copies of the bulletin were confiscated. (Belapan/AFP, Interfax, September 2-5)
IKEA BACKS OFF PLANS TO INVEST IN BELARUS
Swedish furniture maker IKEA has backed off on plans to invest $ 25 million in Belarus after disagreements over signing a deal on a wood mill it hoped to build, Inga Laikovskaya, spokeswoman for IKEA in Belarus said on August 31.
The IKEA disagreement came after the Belarusian government pressed the company to invest its money in modernizing existing factories, in which it was only promised a minority ownership, instead of building a new factory. Laikovskaya said the company had spent five months trying to negotiate an acceptable solution. “This illustrates the investment climate in Belarus,” she said.
The Belarusian government, however, said it was not getting a fair deal. “The Swedes only wanted to get their hands on Belarusian forests without giving anything in return,” said government spokesman Ivan Znatkevich.
The development is the latest case of a foreign company running into trouble doing business in Belarus. A McDonald’s restaurant in Minsk has been effectively closed after a leasing dispute, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak has warned that “it is not safe to invest money” in Belarus. (The Moscow Times, September 2)