INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BELARUS UPDATE Edited by Victor Cole
Vol. 5, No. 44
This year has been one of enormous repression and suffering in Belarus for brave activists attempting to defend the sovereignty and freedom of Belarus and to protect the rights of victims of the Lukashenko regime. Journalists, lawyers, and NGO activists have been subjected to threats, detentions, beatings, and even sentencing to corrective labor--a stark indication of the new worsening of state persecution this year. At the same time, even as the internal situation has deteriorated, the external attention to Belarus has lessened considerably as the international community has focused on Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, and some main donors have reduced assistance.
Each year at American Thanksgiving time in November, we make a special year-end appeal for contributions to the League to assist our work. At this time we would like to appeal to all our Belarus Update readers who are concerned about democracy and human rights in Belarus to make a contribution to the League's Emergency Response Program and directly assist individuals in need in Belarus. This year, due to the great amount of harassment people face, we have many more cases than in the past. We have been receiving the kind of requests for help from Belarus that are hard for foundations to cover in regular grants programs, i.e. humanitarian relief, legal fees, court-ordered fines, temporary income maintenance for persons dismissed from employment, etc. That's why we must turn to you as concerned individuals to help us with this need. As always, any emergency-response contributions donated to the League for this purpose will be sent directly and as quickly as possible to activists in need in Belarus, without any diversion of your contribution for overhead or administration.
Readers in the U.S. may send checks made out to "International League for Human Rights" and marked "Belarus" to: 823 UN Plaza, Suite 717, New York, NY 10017. You will receive an acknowledgement letter noting your tax-exempt contribution for use in your IRS return. Readers outside the U.S. may also contribute by sending a bank transfer to the League. Please contact me at email@example.com for the transfer information.
We hope we can count on you to help us help others in Belarus.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
CIS Program Director
IN THIS ISSUE:
-Regime Expels Last Remaining OSCE Official
-OSCE Criticizes Denial Of Accreditation To Its Officer
-Hans-Georg Wieck: OSCE AMG Mandate Remains Unaltered
-Distributor Of Anti-Lukashenko Leaflets Charged With Slander
-Activists Imprisoned, Fined For Picketing Russian Embassy
-Seven Opposition Members Arrested In Vitebsk
-Activist Stands Trial For Participation In Election Campaign
-Lukashenko Signs Restrictive Religion Law
-Mass World War II Grave Found In Belarus
-Bodies Of Jews Died 200 Years Ago Reburied In Belarus
-KGB Founder Dzerzhinsky Reigns In Belarus
- HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS-
REGIME EXPELS LAST REMAINING OSCE OFFICIAL
The Lukashenko government expelled Alina Josan, the last remaining member of the OSCE’s Advisory and Monitoring Group, on October 29, 2002. “Our activities have been paralyzed for most part of the year,” Josan said before leaving Belarus. “My departure does not change anything, the mission is not closed down and remains active until an official OCSE decision is taken,” she concluded.
The Belarusian authorities expelled the two top OSCE officials in Minsk in April 2002 and refused to renew a visa of its acting head in September 2002 As a citizen of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Josan does not need a visa to work in Belarus. However, the official Minsk’s refusal to renew her accreditation, which expired on October 29, 2002, amounts to her de facto expulsion.
Mikhail Khvostov, Belarusian Foreign Minister, announced on October 31, 2002, that he is ready to meet with Jan Kubis, OSCE Secretary-General, who is planning to visit Belarus early November 2002 to discuss the cooperation between the OSCE and the Belarusian authorities.
Opposition members gathered in front of the OSCE mission in Minsk to protest the government’s decision to deny accreditation to Alina Josan. Many of them believe that the decision was a sign that Lukashenko still fears OSCE influence. “After the authorities refused to cooperate with OSCE, the organization began working more actively with the opposition,” said Nikolai Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party or Narodnaya Hramada. “Lukashenko got scared that the OSCE could help consolidate the Belarussian opposition.”
Konstantin Khadyka and Sergei Pyanykh, both members of the United Civic Party, held a placard saying “In Support of the OSCE’s Democratic Standards.” In about half an hour, the arrived police ordered the picketers to disperse and started the arrests. All detainees were brought to the Moskovsky District Internal Affairs Directorate, where police reports were filed on them. The protesters are to stand trials. (Belapan, Itar-Tass, October 29-31)
OSCE CRITICIZES DENIAL OF ACCREDITATION TO ITS OFFICER
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe denounced the decision by the Belarusian authorities not to extend the diplomatic accreditation of the last remaining member of the Advisory and Monitoring Group. A press release issued by the Portuguese OSCE Chairmanship said the continued expulsion of AMG members “does not contribute to the desirable normalization of relations between Belarus and the OSCE.” The Chairmanship reiterated its “readiness to enter into productive negotiations with the Belarusian authorities” regarding this issue.
Following is the press release:
“Despite renewed efforts by the OSCE Chairmanship to overcome the current difficulties between Belarus and the OSCE, the Chair announces with regret that the Belarusian authorities have refused to extend the diplomatic accreditation of the Officer-in-Charge, Ms. Alina Josan, the last remaining member of the Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG).”
“The de facto expulsion of Ms. Alina Josan, effective from October 29, 2002, follows the expulsion by the Belarusian authorities of the AMG Acting Head in April 2002, Deputy Acting Head in June 2002 and Human Dimension Officer in September 2002.”
“The fact that the Belarusian authorities have decided to continue expelling OSCE Mission members as the OSCE Chairmanship makes new attempts to begin consultations and negotiations does not contribute to the desirable normalization of relations between Belarus and the OSCE. While the Belarusian authorities have withdrawn all basic conditions for the AMG to function in a normal and adequate manner in Minsk, the AMG’s mandate remains valid and the Chairmanship will ensure the continuation of its activities from Vienna. The Chairmanship recalls that the AMG’s mandate was agreed upon by a decision of the Permanent Council in September 1997 and that it can only be terminated by a formal decision of the Permanent Council.”
“Once again the Chairmanship reiterates its readiness to enter into productive negotiations with the Belarusian authorities on the future OSCE presence in Belarus.”
(OCSE, October 29)
HANS-GEORG WIECK: OSCE AMG MANDATE REMAINS UNALTERED
Amb. Hans-Georg Wieck, former head of the OSCE AMG in Minsk, is convinced that the OSCE mission will resume its activities in the near future, operating the way it used to under the Wieck’s leadership. In an interview to RFE/RL, Amb. Wieck noted that the Belarusian leadership “always wanted to either halt the mission’s activities or curtail its mandate.” After failing to change it through “regular procedure,” the authorities simply decided not to renew visas of AMG officials. Amb. Wieck believes that “the mission must continue its activities under the current mandate, cooperating both with the government and opposition.” He stressed that the mission “always considered the government to be its partner, ultimately responsible for implementing democratic reforms in the country.”
Commenting on the role Russia may play in the Belarus’s transition to democratic state, the Ambassador said that “as long as Russia is interested in promoting democratic reforms, it will attempt to influence Minsk’s decisions.” Amb. Wieck believes that the development of the political situation in Belarus will be influenced by the results of the local elections. “Everything now depends on whether the political forces and NGOs are prepared for a coalition move,” he said. Wieck says that the Belarusian society’s mindset is gradually moving to an idea of seeing a group of parties rather than one individual at the head of the opposition coalition. (RFE/RL, October 30)
DISTRIBUTOR OF ANTI-LUKASHENKO LEAFLETS CHARGED WITH SLANDER
Oksana Novikova, 29, was officially charged with violation of 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. On October 17, Novikova was arrested on Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk while distributing anti-Lukashenko leaflets and now is facing up to five years of “restricted freedom” or imprisonment. In an interview to Belapan, Novikova said that she distributed the leaflets to draw the public attention to human rights violations committed by the Belarusian authorities.
In the last four months three Belarusian journalists were sentenced to two years of “restricted movement” for allegedly slandering Alexander Lukashenko--a verdict that media freedom advocates denounced as political repression. (Belapan, October 29)
ACTIVISTS IMPRISONED, FINED FOR PICKETING RUSSIAN EMBASSY
The Moskovsky District Court of Minsk sentenced Ilya Iydrentsov to three days’ imprisonment for staging unauthorized picket on October 23 near the Russian Embassy in Minsk. Pavel Severinets, leader of the Malady (Youth) Front, Sergei and Elena Matskoits, both the Malady Front activists, were fined for the same offence. (Viasna Human Rights Center, October 28)
SEVEN OPPOSITION MEMBERS ARRESTED IN VITEBSK
The police broke up an unauthorized rally in Vitebsk late on October 30, reported Viasna Human Rights Center. The protestors, marking the International Day of the Victims of Political Repression, demanded protection from political persecution. Ella Konovalova, Tatyana Zaikova, Fedor Bakunov, Vadim Kravtsov, Oleg Shulgin, Evgeny Konstantinov, and Alexander Bakulin were arrested and taken to the Zheleznodorozhny District Internal Affairs Directorate, where police reports were filed on them. (Viasna Human Rights Center, October 31)
ACTIVIST STANDS TRIAL FOR PARTICIPATION IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The Moskovsky District Court of Minks began hearing a criminal case initiated by the Moskovsky District Prosecutor’s office of Minsk against Sergei Mikhnov, a member of the Belarusian Language Society and an independent observer in the 2001 presidential election. The activist is charged with violation of Art. 191 of the Belarusian Penal Code (interference with electoral commissions’ activities), an offence punishable by up to three years in prison. The charges were brought after the activist submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s office alleging the falsification of the voting results at the polling station No. 45 of the Moskovsky District of Minsk. (Viasna Public Association Human Rights Center, November 1)
- RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS-
LUKASHENKO SIGNS RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW
Alexander Lukashenko signed into force on October 31, 2002, a controversial law banning the registration of new religious organizations in Belarus unless they have been present in the country for more than 20 years. As the law becomes effective, religious organizations must bring their by-laws into compliance with it. Under the new law, all religious organizations must apply for re-registration within two years. Parliament will have to approve amendments to a range of other laws and regulations to bring them into line with the new provisions of the law.
“There is nothing in this law to hinder freedom of conscience or of the belief. The protesters are missing the point,” Lukashenko’s spokeswoman Natalya Petskevich said, referring to the numerous complaints filed against the bill. She said that the law “is aimed to prevent religious expansion of destructive sects and occultism.” Petckevich added that negative reactions to the new law had come only from the United States, while European states had made no comment. “This law is very constructive and balanced,” she said. The presidential press office said the opposition to the law came from groups “seeking to cash in on religious sentiments.”
The new law, adopted by the Belarusian parliament on October 2, 2002, outlaws unregistered religious activity; requires compulsory prior censorship for all religious literature; bans foreign citizens from leading religious organizations, and prohibits all but occasional, small religious meetings in private homes. The new law restricts religious education to faiths that have ten registered communities, including at least one that had been registered since 1982.
Critics say the law enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church’s dominance in the country and restricts the activities of smaller religious groups. Protestant groups said it would obligate them to dissolve many of their organizations and force many of their members to emigrate.
Human rights advocates have said the law is discriminatory, and the Keston Institute, a UK-based organization that monitors religious freedom in former communist countries, has called it “the most repressive religion law in Europe.”
“The new law has already caused us problems, creating tensions among people forbidden to hold prayer-meetings in their apartments. This discriminatory law will arouse negative reactions all over, but the president won’t listen,” said Dina Shavtsova, a lawyer for the country’s Union of Evangelical Christians. Shavtsova said the union would appeal to the Belarusian Constitutional court arguing that the law was contrary to the constitution and to the country’s international obligations.
“This law turns the clock back to a time when Protestant churches could only exist underground,” said Nikolai Sinkovets, Bishop of the Evangelist Christian Baptist church.
Chief Rabbi Sender Uritsky also criticized the law, saying it could create serious problems for Jews in the former Soviet republic.
“Although we believe it is undemocratic and violates the constitution, there is nothing we can do about it” commented Sergei Malakhovsky, chair of the Minsk Hare Krishna community. “The new law will greatly harm religious communities, instituting harsher control not just on new religious groups but even on the Orthodox Church.” He pointed out that his community had already been denied permission to register a headquarters, despite having seven registered communities and an additional eight which have been trying to secure registration.
“I continue to regard it as an anti-constitutional law,” said Ivan Pashkevich, head of the parliamentary Commission for Human Rights and Mass Media. “I fear inter-religious tensions, as a result of this law.”
Oleg Gulak, executive director of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, said he expects a severe worsening of the situation for religious minorities. “Many communities will lose registration,” he added. Gulak also complained about the time it will take religious communities to navigate their way through the bureaucracy to secure re-registration. “In the next two or three months, religious organizations will have to dedicate all their efforts running around from one office to another paying fees and getting approval, simply to re-register. If one little thing in their statutes does not accord with the law re-registration will be denied.”" He warned that small religious communities will not have the resources or perseverance to secure re-registration. “Many of them won’t bother. They will go underground, saying that they won't be able to fight against this new law.”
Fr. Yan Spasyuk, leader of the unregistered Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (BAOC), whose newly-constructed church building in the village of Pogranichny was bulldozed by the authorities in August 2002, believes that some believers will have to return to underground. “It is not an unusual situation,” he maintained. “People got used to working in the underground over the past thirty or forty years.”
A coalition of minority denominations had unsuccessfully appealed to Lukashenko to veto the measure after it was passed by parliament. (Belapan, Keston News Service, November 1)
- AT HOME IN BELARUS-
MASS WORLD WAR II GRAVE FOUND IN BELARUS
Belarusians found a World War II mass grave believed to contain the remains of up to 12,000 people, Belarusian defense officials said on October 30. The grave was found on a military base in the town of Slutsk, about 90 kilometers south of Minsk, said Leonid Zakharenko, press secretary for the Belarusian Defense Ministry. “Searchers found the remains of people of different nationalities and ages, including children,” Zakharenko said, adding that many of the bodies were stacked on top of one another. Local residents, who discovered the site, told military officials that Nazi troops executed and buried Jews from Slutsk and the prisoners of a nearby concentration camp at the site between 1942-44. A mass excavation of the site is expected to start in the spring, official said. So far, the remains of about 50 people have been found. Belarus was home to a substantial Jewish minority before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Of the 6 million Jews who were killed in Europe during World War II, 800,000 were killed by Nazis in Belarus. (Belapan, October 30)
BODIES OF JEWS DIED 200 YEARS AGO REBURIED IN BELARUS
A rabbi recited the Kaddish, as the remains of 21 Jews who died two centuries ago were reburied on October 31, 2002, a few weeks after they were found beneath the central square in Minsk. The remains of 11 men and 10 women were found in early October by workers rebuilding Independence Square, where a Jewish cemetery that was closed in 1846 once stood. Forensic investigation revealed that the remnants belonged to people who died of natural causes about 200 years ago. There were reburied in another old Jewish cemetery in Valozhin, 70 kilometers (about 45 miles) west of Minsk.
Rabbi Sender Uritsky said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, during the ceremony--the first at the cemetery since 1957. Rabbi Uritsky said he hoped the reburial would mark the beginning of a process in which the Belarusian authorities will return former synagogues, the building of once famous Valozhin Yeshiva and other sites seized by the state in Soviet times. Jewish activists have said the Lukashenko government has been reluctant to turn over such sites to Jewish groups. (Interfax, November 1)
KGB FOUNDER DZERZHINSKY REIGNS IN BELARUS
While Russia battles with the divisive issue of whether to resurrect a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, or “Iron Felix,” founder of the Cheka, later the KGB, Belarus still celebrates his firm belief in the triumph of communism. The man who was behind killing of tens of thousands of “enemies of the revolution,” underwent a remarkable transformation in his youth, abandoning plans to become a priest in favor of a diehard revolutionary, known for his uncompromising zeal.
Belarus’ KGB, the only post-Soviet security service to retain the notorious name, is widely praised by Lukashenko as are the Interior Ministry and police. The security services offer the best paid jobs in the public sector and sometimes perks, like the best apartments. New recruits to the KGB come to lay flowers at Dzerzhinsky’s feet and pledge allegiance to Belarus before starting their work.
At a recent news conference for Western journalists -- attended by only a few foreign reporters -- Lukashenko again lauded the work of his security services. “Naturally, society today depends on the work of the security services. So all we ask is that you keep it up,” Lukashenko replied to a question by a member of the Interior Ministry concerning how he could do a better job. “You must work so that people see you as their defenders. Be resilient and strong.” The Belarusian leader says communist-era policies have made Belarus a leading power in the former Soviet Union.
Local observers say that Belarusians, focused on everyday survival, have allowed Lukashenko to rule with an iron fist by maintaining the overwhelming power of the security services. (Reuters, October 28)
NOTICE OF PUBLIC CONFERENCE ON BELARUS
THE NEW ATLANTIC INITIATIVE
cordially invites you to a conference on
Axis of Evil: Belarus--the Missing Link
with a keynote speech by
JOHN McCAIN, UNITED STATES SENATOR
Thursday, November 14, 2002, 9:00 a.m.--2:30 p.m.
Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
The world is an unwelcome place for Saddam Hussein's cronies. Yet, they are always welcome in Minsk--capital of Belarus. Europe's only remaining dictator, Alexander Lukashenko--an advocate of military collaboration with Baghdad--is a menace to his own people, his neighbors, and the United States. In a land where the KGB (yes, still the KGB) runs roughshod over rights, no one is safe, and nothing is sacred. Churches have been destroyed, the regime's opponents disappear, newspapers are closed down, and ambassadors are thrown out of their residences. Can the West work together to eliminate this shame of Europe? Please join the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute, and our cosponsors, Freedom House, the International League for Human Rights, the International Republican Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Pattis Family Foundation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the United States Embassy in Belarus for a conference on Europe's last dictatorship.
Registration and continental breakfast
RADEK SIKORSKI, executive director, NAI
SAM GEJDENSON, former member of the House of Representatives HANS-GEORG WIECK, former head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk
MICHAEL G. KOZAK, ambassador, United States Embassy in Belarus
Belarus: A Human Rights Catastrophe
PAVEL SHEREMET, author of a documentary on disappearances, formerly imprisoned in Minsk
IRINA KRASOVSKAYA, wife of Anatoly Krasovsky-Lukashenko's missing opponent
ANDREY SANNIKOV, head of Charter 97, former deputy minister of foreign affairs of Belarus
NINA SHEA, member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House
THOMAS DINE, president, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Belarus as a Rogue State
JAN MAKSYMIUK, analyst, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
RAFAL SADOWSKI, analyst, Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw
MARK PALMER, president of Capital Development Company, former United States Ambassador to Hungary
Belarus after Lukashenko
STANISLAV SHUSHKEVICH, former head of state, Belarusian Social-Democratic Party "Gramada"
ANATOLY LYABEDZKA, United Civic Party
VINCUK VIACHORKA, Belarusian Popular Front
ANDREY KLIMOV, former member of parliament who was condemned to a hard labor colony for political reasons
BARBARA HAIG, vice president for programs, planning, and evaluation, National Endowment for Democracy
JOHN McCAIN, senator, United States Senate
All guests must register. Please confirm your attendance by Wednesday, November 13, 2002. You will be asked for a photo ID upon your arrival at the Wohlstetter Conference Center.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
9:00 a.m.--2:30 p.m.
Wohlstetter Conference Center
Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
( ) Please check if this is a new address.
You may register online at www.aei.org/inv021114.htm