INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BELARUS UPDATE
Edited by Victor Cole
Vol. 5, No. 39
IN THIS ISSUE:
HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS-
- Third Term for Lukashenko?
- Journalist Under Investigation For Libel
- Violence Against Journalists Continues
- Writers Union Accuses Government Of Censorship
- Poor Democracy Record Keeps Belarus Out Of COE
- European Union Urges Belarusian Authorities To Cooperate
- U.S. Urges Greater OSCE-EU Cooperation In Belarus
- Opposition Leader Denied Inquiry Into Phone Wiretap
- Poll: One In Four Belarusians Support Dictator
- Trade Union Federation Appoints Pro-Lukashenko Chair
- Regime Denies Providing Dual-Use Technologies To Iraq
- Ex-Official Convicted Of Selling State Secrets To Russia
THIRD TERM FOR LUKASHENKO
On September 21, at an unprecedented press conference, which was broadcast live on TV and the Internet and staged at his luxurious presidential palace, Alexander Lukashenko announced he might run for a third presidential term in 2006. [Although the Belarusian Constitution does not allow for more than two terms, local opposition leaders fear that Lukashenko may push for a referendum to change the provisions; given the total state control over the mass media such a referendum will most likely be successful.-Ed].
A group of hand-picked citizens was brought before the camera to ask questions. Some sent their comments by e-mail, which he read from a laptop on the podium. In the more than two and a half hours he lectured the country, Lukashenko warned the Belarusian youth about the perils of smoking and recommended that they take up football. “I am the cleanest and healthiest president in the world!” exclaimed Lukashenko, throwing his hands in the air. A crowd of local journalists burst into spontaneous applause.
The Belarusian leader said Belarus was not going to seek any help from abroad, because it was following its “own path to prosperity.” Finally, he lambasted his political opponents for accepting “Western bribes to subvert the government.”
Lukashenko responded aggressively to a question by Alexander Silich, deputy editor of Narodnaya Volya, an independent daily, on a rumored secret presidential fund. He accused the newspaper’s staff of taking money from the West to “line their pockets” and promised to verify whether they were respecting the law, and hinted the newspaper would soon cease to exist.
Three days after Silich’s question last week, Narodnaya Volya equipment was confiscated. “His [Lukashenko’s] words at the press conference were a sign for prosecutors to do their job,” complained Silich. “I do not think this is the end of the story.” (Radio Racyja/ Belapan/ Viasna Human Rights Center, September 21-25)
JOURNALIST UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR LIBELING OFFICIAL
The Lukashenko regime continues its crackdown on the independent media. The Prosecutor General Office announced on September 23 that it launched a criminal investigation into case of journalist Irina Khalip in connection with two articles titled “The Afghan Greyhounds” and “The Afghan Greyhounds- Part 2” carried in two August issues of Dlya Sluzhebnogo Polzovaniya [For Official Use Only],” a weekly addition to Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta. In the articles, Khalip alleged that Prosecutor General Viktor Sheiman was to receive a bribe in the amount of $250,000 for closing a case of Viktor Kazieko, former director of Belgosagroprom, and his son Andrei, who were accused of corruption. The newspaper received a warning for publishing the articles. “The authorities have been searching for a long time for an excuse to go after the newspaper and its reporters,” Khalip commented. Three journalists have been sentenced to internal exile in the past three months after being convicted of libel against high-level officials. (Belapan, September 24)
VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS CONTINUES
Stanislav Pochobut, a journalist of Navinki, an independent newspaper, was beaten by unknown assailants in Minsk on September 8, suffering a concussion and broken cheek bones. Earlier that day, the journalist took part in several opposition actions in support of convicted Pahonya journalists.
In another incident in Brest, unknown individuals threw stones in the windows of Brestsky Kuryer, an independent newspaper. (Viasna Human Rights Center, September 20-26)
WRITERS UNION ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF CENSORSHIP
“An open-minded writer cannot cooperate with the Lukashenko government,” said Olga Ipatova, chair of the Belarusian Writers Union, in an opening speech at a Union’s convention on September 24. “In the past, the authorities undertook a series of obligations to ensure absence of censorship and freedom of speech. It is obvious today those promises were yet another attempt to misguide the international community,” Ipatova said. She denounced the Belarusian authorities for merging a number of the Belarusian language periodicals into a joint company. Polymia (The Flame), Maladost’ (The Youth), Krynitsa (The Spring), Neman (Russian language magazine), and Litaratura i Mastatstva (The Literature and Art), the Union’s weekly magazine, are now headed and published by Lukashenko’s immediate circle of appointees. Ipatova reminded his colleagues that the Union received an ultimatum either to give up control over Litaratura i Mastatstva and Krynitsa or lose government financing. Sergei Kostyan became the manager of the media holding. Immediately after assuming his responsibilities, he fired all editors and replaced them with people loyal to Alexander Lukashenko. The management of the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian Writers’ Union did not approve any of these appointments. (Belapan, September 24)
POOR DEMOCRACY RECORD KEEPS BELARUS OUT OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Belarus needs to improve its democratic record dramatically before it is deemed ready to join the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said in a resolution passed September 27. “Despite some progress, Belarus lacks crucial democratic norms and it does not yet meet the Council of Europe's standards,” the Council said, “human rights violations continue, the electoral process is deeply flawed, civil society remains embryonic, the judiciary is not independent, parliament and local governments are powerless.”
The Council of Europe resolution focused on areas of particular concern such as the lack of progress regarding the cases of missing opposition politicians, as well as recently intensified attacks on freedom of expression and the media.
“For the time being, a discussion neither on full membership of Belarus in the Council of Europe nor on the restoration of Special Guest Status in the Assembly can be put on the agenda,” the Council said in the resolution But it said it may reconsider its position in future if the Belarussian parliament shows signs of a real “commitment to fostering democratic development in Belarus.”
“We couldn’t care less,” commented on the resolution Sergei Kostyan, deputy chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on International Affairs and Relations with CIS Countries. “PACE is just a faithful servant of the U.S., eager to please its master,” he continued. “Belarus has been doing well without being a member in any European structures for 300 years and will continue to do so for another millennium,” Kostyan concluded.
Belarus was granted Special Guest status by PACE in September 1992. It was revoked in January 1997 when the Council refused to recognize the incoming Belarusian government under Alexander Lukashenko, who is widely criticized for his autocratic style of governing.
The full text of the resolution is located at: http://stars.coe.fr/
EUROPEAN UNION URGES BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES TO COOPERATE
The European Union decried the decision of the Belarusian authorities on September 17 to deny a visa extension for Meagan Fitzgerald, the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group. The Union urged the Belarusian authorities to reconsider its position “and engage in constructive negotiations with the OSCE on the future of the AMG in Belarus.” As the EU has repeatedly pointed out, it would “like to welcome Belarus among the democratic states in Europe,” but it is concerned about the situation of democracy and human rights in the country. “Cooperation with the AMG would be a possibility for the Belarusian authorities to show progress in these fields,” the Union said in a statement. “The OSCE has a crucial contribution to make in strengthening democratic institutions in Belarus. A satisfactory solution to the AMG question would be taken as a token of the resolve of the Belarusian authorities to improve relations with the EU and with international organizations.” (EU, September 22)
U.S. URGES GREATER OSCE-EU COOPERATION IN BELARUS
In a statement delivered to the Permanent Council in Vienna on September 25, Amb. Stephen M. Minikes, head of the U.S. mission to the OSCE, said that in Belarus, the OSCE faces a difficult challenge. Following are excerpts from his speech regarding Belarus:
“Overwhelming agreement within the OSCE exists on the important contribution the AMG can and should make to the development of democratic institutions in Belarus and ending Belarus’ deepening self-isolation within the international community.”
“Yet the Belarusian regime has turned its back on the good faith of this organization and prevented a resolution. Its record on human rights continues to decline. It is clear that the OSCE and the EU share the same hope for Belarus, and we appreciate the consistent support EU member countries have already provided on behalf of the OSCE AMG. I believe that more coordinated, collective efforts by the OSCE and EU to work constructively with Belarus to secure the return of the AMG would offer the best hope to Belarus of future democratic development, reform and an end to its self-imposed isolation.” (USIA, September 25)
OPPOSITION LEADER DENIED INQUIRY INTO WIRETAPPING OF HIS PHONE
The Belarusian Prosecutor’s Office refused to launch a criminal investigation into the publication of the transcript of a wiretapped telephone conversation between Anatoly Lebedko, a Belarusian opposition leader and chair of the United Civic Party, and Boris Nemtsov, the head of the liberal Union of Right Forces faction in the Russian parliament.
On September 3, Sovetskaya Rossiya, a Russian leftist newspaper, and Sovetskaya Belorussiya, 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.
Mikhail Avdyukov, Chief Prosecutor of the City of Moscow, has initiated a criminal investigation 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. (Belapan, September 27)
- AT HOME IN BELARUS -
POLL FINDS ONE IN FOUR BELARUSIANS SUPPORT DICTATOR
Alexander Lukashenko’s public support has fallen to its lowest level in eight years, with barely more than one in four people saying they would vote for him in the next presidential election, a public opinion polling group said September 23. The survey by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Investigation showed Lukashenko’s support level at 27 percent, down from 30.9 percent in April 2002 and 46 percent a year ago. Despite the lower reading, the poll did not find strong sentiment for any particular potential successor, said Oleg Manaev, Director of the Institute. The poll was conducted by face-to-face interviews with 1,509 people throughout the country in September. (Belapan, September 25)
TRADE UNION FEDERATION APPOINTS PRO-LUKASHENKO CHAIR
At a congress held in mid-September, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus appointed Leonid Kozik, former deputy chief of the presidential administration, as its head. The four-million-strong union umbrella organization has been a stronghold of opposition support and its former leader, Vladimir Goncharik, who challenged Lukashenko and lost in a discredited presidential election in September 2001.
“Lukashenko has won against the trade unions. But it is a Pyrrhic victory,” Alexander Bukhvostov, head of the Agro-Industrial Workers’ Union, told AFP. “No one in the world will recognize the trade union federation that basically reports to him, just as they don't recognize the Belarusian government as democratic,” he added.
Goncharik accused the hard-line Belarusian leader of conducting a witch-hunt against him and other like-minded union figures. He resigned from the leadership of the Federation 2001 and his successor, Frans Vitko, was forced to do the same in July this year. (Belapan, AFP, September 23-24)
REGIME DENIES PROVIDING DUAL-USE TECHNOLOGIES TO IRAQ
Alexander Lukashenko flatly denied allegations that his nation had provided dual-use technology or goods to Iraq, which would allow Baghdad to produce nuclear weapons.
“We have very good relations with Iraq, but we cooperate with Iraq only in those areas that are not prohibited by the United Nations,” Lukashenko told in an interview to BBC.
The Belarusian leader stressed that Belarus “is not the kind of state, in its potential and might, that could defy the opinion of the world community.” Lukashenko said that officials from the U.S. State Department and Congress who visited Belarus in February could not present any facts proving illicit ties between Minsk and Baghdad.
Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev supported his boss by saying that the allegations are “insinuations and speculations that have no official proof.” “Belarus, in its international relations, acts in strict compliance with decisions of the U.N. and other international agreements,” he said after meeting with Anatoly Kinakh, Ukrainian Prime Minister, reported Interfax. (BBC, September 23- Interfax, September 24)
EX-OFFICIAL CONVICTED OF SELLING STATE SECRETS TO RUSSIA
A Belarusian court convicted Yevgeny Kukushkin, a former government official who worked on the Council of Ministers' securities commission, of selling state secrets to Russian private companies and sentenced him to five years in prison, Fyodor Kotov, a spokesman for the State Security Committee (KGB), said on September 26. “KGB officers were forced to go under cover as Russian businessmen to confirm the fact of the sale of information,” Kotov said. He gave no further information about the trial, which took place behind closed doors. (Belapan, September 27)
The Belarus Update is a weekly news bulletin of the Belarus Human Rights Support Project of the International League for Human Rights (www.ilhr.org) The League, now in its 61st year, is New York-based human rights NGO in consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC. Visit our website for back issues, analysis, and links to news sites and NGOs in Belarus: www.belarusupdate.org For queries on how to subscribe or unsubscribe or other information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Belarus project was established to support Belarusian citizens in making their case for the protection of civil society before the international community regarding Alexander Lukashenko's wholesale assault on human rights and the rule of law in Belarus.