INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BELARUS UPDATE
INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Edited by Victor Cole
Vol. 5, No. 37
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Belarusian Authorities Expel Another OSCE Official
- OSCE Urges Belarus To Comply With Commitments
- Opposition Paper Editor Goes On Trial Behind Closed Doors
- Private Conversation Of Russian Lawmaker, UPC Chair Bugged
- Activist Goes To Jail For Picketing Russian Embassy In Minsk
- Local Activists Rally Against Lukashenko; Police Arrest One
- Hrodna BPF Chair On Trial
- Vitebsk UCP Members Fined And Warned
- More Krishna Followers Jailed For Registration Appeal
- Lukashenko Accuses Putin Of Trying To Destroy Union
- Iraq, Belarus Discuss Cooperation
- HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS-
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES EXPEL ANOTHER OSCE OFFICIAL
In the latest round of confrontation between Minsk and the OSCE, Meaghan Fitzgerald, the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group, was expelled from Belarus. Before leaving Minsk for the US on September 12, Fitzgerald, an American citizen seconded to OSCE, said that the authorities had refused to renew her entry visa without an explanation, thus forcing her to leave. “The Belarusian Foreign Ministry told me that it saw no reason for extending my visa,” Fitzgerald told journalists at the airport. She added that the OSCE would now be represented in Minsk by just one employee, Alina Josan, a citizen of Moldova, who does not need a visa to work in Belarus. “We have not been able to work effectively this whole year,” said Fitzgerald. “But I still hope that our monitoring service, and our ability to read letters from the country’s citizens who appeal to us, will have an important effect.” Pavel Latushko, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman, refused to comment on the reasons for visa refusal.
Relations between Alexander Lukashenko and the OSCE have been increasingly sour amid OSCE criticism of human rights violations in the country. Earlier this year, the Belarusian authorities failed to renew the accreditation of Andrew Carpenter, the interim chief of the OSCE mission in Minsk, after his visa and diplomatic license expired on June 1. (Belapan, September 12)
OSCE URGES BELARUS TO COMPLY WITH COMMITMENTS
In a statement issued on September 12, the Portuguese OSCE chairmanship urged the Lukashenko government to comply with its obligations undertaken within the OSCE and understand that the denial of visa to another mission’s official will only harm the interests of Belarus.
Following are excerpts from the statement:
“Despite all efforts made by the OSCE Chairmanship to overcome the current difficulties between Belarus and the OSCE, the Belarusian Government decided not to extend the visa of the last remaining member for external relations of the OCSE AMG.”
“The OSCE Chairmanship believes that such attitude on the part of the Belarusian authorities does not contribute to the desirable normalization of relations between Belarus and the OSCE.”
“A continuing cooperation between the OSCE and Belarus is essential and the work of the AMG is the key element to such cooperation. However, the AMG can no longer function under current conditions.”
“The OSCE is ready to pursue consultations on the future work of the OSCE in Belarus and the Chairmanship already informed the Belarusian authorities of its intentions to urgently pursue contacts with them at appropriate level in order to discuss concrete proposals.” (OSCE, September 12)
OPPOSITION PAPER EDITOR GOES ON TRIAL BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The Pervomaisky District Court of Minsk began hearings on September 11 in the case of Viktor Ivashkevich, editor-in-chief of Rabochy, an independent newspaper. Ivashkevich is facing criminal charges under Art. 367, part 2, of the Belarusian Penal Code (defamation of the President by accusing him of committing serious crimes), an offence punishable by up to five years in prison, and under Art. 368 par. 1 of the Penal Code for “publicly insulting the President,” an offence punishable by up to three years in prison.
The charges stem from an article Ivashkevich wrote last August, entitled, “Thieves Belong in Jail,” which alleged that Lukashenko received illegal kick backs from selling arms and exploiting the Russia-Belarus customs union to smuggle goods into Russia. The article was slated to come out during Lukashenko’s presidential campaign, but authorities seized 39,000 issues of Rabochy’s edition before it could reach the readers.
The trial comes just weeks after Mikola Markevich, editor-in-chief of Pahonya, a Grodno-based independent weekly newspaper, and Pavel Mazheiko, a journalist for the same newspaper, were sent into internal exile for libeling the authoritarian Belarusian leader. When a big group of human rights defenders, journalists and foreign diplomats gathered in the courtroom, Judge Vladimir Kobyshev unexpectedly announced that the hearing would be closed to the public and media and ordered everyone to leave. When the public refused to obey, the judge left the room. There was a brief scuffle when Valery Shchukin, a correspondent for Narodnaya Volya, an independent newspaper and a human rights activist, tried to re-enter the courtroom, but was turned back by police, news reports said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that the government’s decision to start Ivashkevich’s trial on September 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S., appeared “deliberately chosen to minimize international scrutiny.” (Belapan/ Viasna Human Rights Center/ Charter 97, September 12-13)
PRIVATE CONVERSATION OF RUSSIAN LAWMAKER, UPC CHAIR BUGGED
Although the Belarusian Constitution provides for protection against illegal interference in a citizen’s personal life, including invasion of privacy, telephone, and other communications, the Lukashenko government continues to disrespect these rights in practice.
Moscow chief prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov has launched a criminal investigation into the publication of a bugged telephone conversation between Boris Nemtsov, the head of the liberal Union of Right Forces faction in the Russian parliament, and Anatoly Lebedko, a Belarusian opposition leader and chair of the United Civic Party.
On September 3, Sovetskaya Rossiya, a Russian leftist newspaper, and Sovetskaya Belororusyia, a daily founded by the Lukashenko Administration and the editorial board, simultaneously published what was allegedly a transcript of Nemtsov’s phone discussion with Lebedko.
According to Sovetskaya Belorusyia, Nemtsov said that the Kremlin had grown increasingly frustrated with Lukashenko, adding that he had urged the Kremlin to establish contacts with the Belarusian opposition. (The newspaper usually takes a pro-Lukashenko line and regularly accuses Putin of betraying the Belarusian leader to please the West.) Nemtsov advised Lebedko to arrange a meeting with a senior officials in the Russian presidential administration.
Avdyukov said an investigation had been launched into an alleged breach of Russia’s law on the confidentiality of correspondence and telephone conversations. Prosecutors will work to identify those who violated Art. 138 of the Russian Criminal Code by installing the bugging devices, and the recording and publishing the conversations, he said.
For his part, Anatoly Lebedko has asked the Belarusian Prosecutor’s Office to open a criminal investigation into the wiretapping of his telephone conversations. He is doubtful that a criminal case will be opened. “My complaint will hopefully attract some public attention to the human rights situation in Belarus,” he said. (Interfax/ Viasna Human Rights Center, September 10-11)
ACTIVIST GOES TO JAIL FOR PICKETING RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN MINSK
Dmitry Dashkevich, a member of the Mlady (Youth) Front, was detained by the Minsk police on September 7 and later sentenced to 15 days of imprisonment after about a dozen people held an unauthorized demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Minsk against the proposed Russia-Belarus union. The demonstrators ripped an puppet representing Russian President Vladimir Putin and threw it on embassy territory, set Russian bank notes on fire, and carried signs with slogans reading “Hands off Belarus” and “We don’t need Putin.” (Belapan, September 11)
LOCAL ACTIVISTS RALLY AGAINST LUKASHENKO; ONE ARRESTED
On September 9, about 50 opposition activists held an unauthorized protest in Borisov, the Minsk Region. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Lukashenko, denounced his policies and protested numerous human rights violations and falling living standards. One participant was arrested. (Belapan, September 9)
HRODNA BPF CHAIR ON TRIAL
Syarhei Malchyk, chair of the Hrodna Belarusian Popular Front, will stand trial on September 10 for “participation in an unauthorized rally and the use of unregistered symbols.” Detained during celebration of the Day of Belarusian Military Glory on September 8, he was taken to Leninski district police station of Hrodna together with 2 other detainees.
About two dozen people participated in the celebration. They brought flowers to place near the memorial signs at the New Castle and near Kalozha Church. The action was filmed by two plainclothesmen. When the action was over, the police invited Valery Kisel, Young Front activist, to the police station for "personal identification." While Kisel was released right after of his passport check, Malchyk was held at the station for 3 hours. His seven-year-old son had to wait for his father outside the police station. In addition, the police detained Victor Sazonaw, chair of Hrodna Belarusian Social-Democratic Hramada. “Captain Zavadzki invited me to the police station, supposedly to talk with Syarhey Malchyk, to let him know his son was alright,” said Victor Sazonaw, “however, the moment I walked into the police building, they detained me and made me write an explanatory note.” (Viasna Human Rights Center, September 15)
VITEBSK UCP MEMBERS FINED AND WARNED
On September 12, Vitebsk members of United Civic Party were found guilty of participation in unauthorized pickets. On July 30, Lukashenko's birthday, seven UCP members came out with posters with slogans: "You didn't keep your promises Time to Go!" and national white-red-white flags. After a while, the picket grew into a procession along Zamkavaya Street. The police detained UCP members an hour after the action had begun. During the trial all the defendants acknowledged they knowingly organized and participated in unauthorized actions. Judge Svetlana Tufan warned Aksana Krawtsova, Nadzeya Shakalis, Yawhen Kanstantsinaw, Alexander Kabiak, and Aleh Shulhin. Vadzim Krawtsow and Alexander Bakulin were fined BYR1.5 million each ($815) because, as the judge explained, they had been tried for unauthorized actions before. (Viasna Human Rights Center, September 15)
-RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS-
MORE KRISHNA FOLLOWERS JAILED FOR REQUESTING REGISTRATION
Judge Tatiana Pavluchik of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk sentenced Igor Yusupov and Irina Golovina, members of the unregistered Hindu Shiva-Sakti community, the Light of Kailash, to ten days’ imprisonment for holding unauthorized pickets on August 17 in Minsk, Belapan reported on September 5. Irina Siblina was fined BYR 150,000 (about $83) for the same offence. Earlier, Tatiana and Sergei Akadanovs, Dmitry Alisevich, and Aleksey Romanchuk, went to jail for demanding to stop harassment of religious minorities and to register their community. (Belapan, September 5)
- BROTHER SLAVS-
LUKASHENKO ACCUSES PUTIN OF TRYING TO DESTROY UNION
Alexander Lukashenko rejected on September 7 new proposals from Moscow to merge the two countries, saying he preferred the terms of an existing loose union treaty signed with Russia. “Belarus will not yield to any pressure and will not violate the current union treaty,” he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered three alternatives for the two neighbors: creating a single state, an EU-style association, or a loose union as envisaged in a 1999 accord. Lukashenko rejected the single state and EU-style association options, saying he would stick to the union treaty. He added he would stay his course “independently of any policy carried out in Russia.”
Putin’s proposals came at the time when the relations between Moscow and Minsk are at an all-time low over a union project that was devised in 1997 but has advanced little since. Many Russians believe Lukashenko is eyeing closer union with his country’s much larger and richer neighbor as a way of rescuing Belarus from its economic woes, and fear the authoritarian leader’s unpredictable public outbursts. (AFP, September 7)
- AT HOME IN BELARUS-
IRAQ, BELARUS DISCUSS COOPERATION
The Lukashenko regime continues to reach out to Iraq and other countries that the United States has accused of fostering terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction. An Iraqi delegation visited Belarus on September 14-18 to encourage the Lukashenko government to help Baghdad modernize its energy sector, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said. The delegation, headed by Sahaban Faisal Mahjoub, chair of the Iraqi Electricity Commission, held meetings with Belarusian government officials, the Belarusian firm Belenergo and other enterprises working in the energy sector, the Foreign Ministry said.
The visit comes as Iraq is under growing pressure to grant full access to UN. weapons inspectors or face the threat of U.S. military action. Iraq has barred the inspectors, who are charged with verifying the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction, since 1998.
A high-level Iraqi delegation visited Minsk in July to discuss developing cooperation in oil prospecting, building an electricity station and joint work in other industries. Iraqi Ambassador Daif Ahmed said during that visit that 10 contracts worth $1 billion were ready for signing if the U.N. sanctions, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, were lifted. (BBC, September 18)