INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BELARUS UPDATE Edited by Victor Cole Vol. 5, No. 50

2002 2002-12-30T10:00:00+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

December 2002

IN THIS ISSUE:

-Relatives Of Missing Rally In Minsk

-Zubr Stages Picket In Novopolotsk

-Fifth National Human Rights Award

-Demonstrators at Belarusian Embassy in Netherlands

-Official Human Rights Day - Soviet Style

-UN Secretary-Gen. Appeals To Governments To Respect Rule Of Law

-Bush Mentions Belarus In Human Rights Day Address

-Political Parties Win Only 0.5% Of Electoral Commissions

-Kare Volan: Chances For Authorities Hindrances For Opposition

-Journalists From Closed Newspaper Visit Vilnius

-Lukashenko Appoints Security Official To Head State News Agency

-Ivashkevich: “It’s Just Exile”

-Vatican Condemns New Religion Law

-Lukashenko Embraces Orthodox Church

-Discriminatory Religious Law Starts To Bite

-Pentecostals Accuse ?#152;Respublika’ Of Publishing Inflammatory Article

-Russia, Belarus Reach Agreement On Gas Supplies

-Anthem And Common Currency For Union

-Lukashenko Rewards His Loyal Servants

-Belarusian Judge Found Hanged In Forest

-NATO Upholds EU Policy Towards Lukashenko

-Belarus, OSCE Begin Talks In Vienna

-Norway Bars Visits By Belarus President, Top Officials

--HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS

- BELARUS MARKS HUMAN RIGHTS DAY -

RELATIVES OF MISSING RALLY IN MINSK

Belarus marked International Human Rights Day on December 10 with mass actions and pickets in commemoration of the victims of political repression in the country. Over two hundred people turned out on Oktyabrskaya square in Minsk, carrying the portraits of the missing politicians Viktor Gonchar and Yuri Zakharenko, cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky; convicted journalists Pavel Mazheika and Mikola Markevich, and 13th Supreme Soviet vice-speaker Gennady Karpenko, who died under mysterious circumstances, and ZUBR activist Andrei Zaitsev, who is believed to have commit suicide under the pressure form KGB agents. For around an hour the people stood in the Minsk central square with the portraits in hands. After that, they walked toward the headquarters of the KGB, Interior Ministry, the Office of the Prosecutor General, where they submitted appeals signed by Zinaida Gonchar, Uliana Zakharenko, Svetlana, Olga and Yura Zavadsky and Irina Krasovskaya, requesting to invite foreign investigators to assist in the search of their loved ones.

Apart from the relatives of the missing, the following attended: Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, Anatoly Lebedko, chairman of the United Civil Party, Andrei Sannikov, international coordinators of Charter’97, Dmitry Bondarenko and Ludmila Gryaznova, leaders of the United Social Democrats, Valentina Polevikova and Aleksei Korol, Nikolai Statkevich, chairman of Narodnaya Hramada, the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party, Ales Belyatsky, chairman of Vyasna human rights center, Gary Pogonyailo, deputy chair of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Oleg Volchek, chairman of the Legal Aid Center and others. ZUBR and Malady Front played an active part organizing the action.

A long chain with portraits, stretching all over the square, drew the attention of a large number of people, many of whom joined the action. The human rights activists passed out pocket editions of the Declaration of Human Rights. Police did not make any arrests but handed a summons to Ales Belyatsky for addressing the crowd through a loud-speaker. (Charter 97, December 10)

ZUBR STAGES PICKET IN NOVOPOLOTSK

Staged near the central mall, a Human Rights Day picket organized by the members of Novopolotsk branch of Zubr lasted for about an hour. 15 people formed a “chain of people who care,” holding the portraits of Gennady Karpenko, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Dmitry Zavadsky and Andrei Zaitsev The action attracted the attention of police officers, but no arrests were made. (Zubr, December 10)

FIFTH NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD

On December 10, Charter 97 recognized the following individuals’ personal courage by awarding them its annual National Human Rights Prize-2002.

Zinaida Gonchar, wife of Viktor Gonchar, vice-speaker of the 13th Supreme Soviet of Belarus Viktor Gonchar, who disappeared in 1999; Svetlana Zavadskaya, wife of journalist Dmitry Zavadsky, who disappeared in 2000; Irina Krasovskaya, wife of the businessman Anatoly Krasovsky, who disappeared with Gonchar in 1999; Mikola Markevich, editor-in-chef of Pahonia, an independent newspaper shut down by the authorities; Pavel Mazheika, journalist of Pahonia, an independent newspaper shut down by the authorities; Viktor Ivashkevich, editor-in-chief of Rabochy, an independent newspaper.

The Human Rights Award was established by the Charter’97 civic initiative in 1998. The prize has been awarded to the prominent public and cultural figures, politicians, and journalists. (Charter 97, December 10)

BELARUSIAN EMBASSY IN NETHERLANDS PICKETED

The Belarusian Center in Belgium staged a picket near the Belarusian Embassy in Netherlands to protest against human rights violations in Belarus. Action participants demanded further investigations into political disappearances, immediate release of political prisoners and holding free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections. (Radio Racyja, December 10)

OFFICIAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY - SOVIET STYLE

Officially mandated lectures dedicated to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948 in Paris, were held in schools, universities and other educational institutions throughout Belarus, reported BelTA, Belarusian news agency. While calling the adoption of the Declaration “the most important achievement in the field of human rights,” the official Minsk asked the lecturers to focus on how human rights are respected in different corners of the globe. (BelTA, December 10)

UN SECRETARY-GEN. APPEALS TO GOVERNMENTS TO RESPECT RULE OF LAW

In his Human Rights Day address, Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, stressed the importance of the rule of law to secure human rights and freedom. In particular he said: “On this Human Rights Day, I appeal to all governments, communities and individuals to recommit themselves to the universal application of the rule of law. Let us ensure that we never take this precious legacy for granted. Let us nurture, develop, strengthen and defend it. On this Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission.” (UN, December 10)

BUSH MENTIONS BELARUS IN HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ADDRESS

In his address on International Human Rights Day on December 10, President Bush singled out Belarus together with such anti-democratic countries as Zimbabwe, Iran, Cuba and North Korea. “Across the globe, we will continue to stand with those who fight for fundamental freedoms, whether they be democracy activists in Cuba, university faculty and students in Iran, opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, journalists in Belarus, or the people of North Korea who have never known freedom.” (USIS, December 10)

-- LOCAL ELECTION 2003 --

POLITICAL PARTIES REPS WIN 0.5% OF ELECTORAL COMMISSIONS MEMBERSHIP

While forming electoral commissions for the next year local election, “we managed to ensure the representation of the widest political spectrum of the society,” Nikolai Lozovik, Secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, told journalists gathered on December 10 at the National Press Center. According to him, 1,673 commissions have been set up, including, 1,440 in the provinces, 78 in towns, and 117 in regions. They include 13,448 people, 73% of which are women and 11% are under 30 years of age. More than half of the current members are incumbents. Commenting on “wide political representation,” Lozovik boasted that political parties will be represented in the electoral commissions by 61 individual: 40 from two Communist Parties, five from the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party Narodnaya Hramada, 11 Liberal Democrats, two from the Agrarian Party, and one rep from each United Civic Party, Belarusian Patriotic Party and Social-Democratic Party of National Reconciliation. Unlike political parties, nonpartisan public organizations, such as trade unions, the Belarusian Union of Women, and the Council of Veterans are well represented. (BelTA, December 10)

KARE VOLAN: CHANCES FOR AUTHORITIES HINDRANCES FOR OPPOSITION

In his recent report titled “International Standards For Elections And The Belarusian Electoral Law. Legal Analysis,” Kare Volan, Head of the OSCE Mission for Monitoring Elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Ukraine in 1996-1998, and member of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, shared his vision of the forthcoming local elections in Belarus. Commenting on the Belarusian electoral legislation, Volan noted that it is easy for the authorities to “effectively appoint candidates for the deputies’ seats,” primarily because government-backed candidates enjoy unlimited access to state-owned mass media while independents’ access is severely restricted despite the law proclamations on equal rights.

In addition, Kare Volan criticized the so-called early voting practice. He believes that in countries like Belarus it can lead to serious abuses. Finally, he stressed the importance to have independent observers present when the ballots are counted. (Narodnaya Volya, December 13)

-- MEDIA FREEDOM IN BELARUS --

JOURNALISTS OF CLOSED NEWSPAPER VISIT VILNIUS

Journalists of Mestnoye Vremya [Local Time], an independent newspaper recently shut down by the Belarusian authorities, held a press-conference for Lithuanian journalists in Vilnius, reported Radio Racyja. On the same day they also met with Vaclav Stankevich, Lithuanian MP and Special Rapporteur of Belarus at the PACE. (Radio Racyja, December 11)

LUKASHENKO APPOINTS SECURITY OFFICIALTO HEAD STATE NEWS AGENCY

President Lukashenko appointed Oleg Pralaskovsky general director of BelTA, the state-run news agency formerly known as the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, Belapan reported on December 6. Pralaskovsky, a former department chief in the Presidential Security Service, will replace Yakov Alekseichik, who has headed BelTA since 1988. BelTA, created in 1921 as a local branch of TASS, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, became the official news agency of the Republic of Belarus in 1991, after the Soviet Union collapsed. (Belapan, December 6)

IVASHKEVICH: “IT’S JUST AN EXILE”

Victor Ivashkevich, editor of Rabochy, an independent newspaper who was sentenced for allegedly slandering Lukashenko in an article titled “Thieves Belong to Jail,” was ordered to arrive to a labor correction facility in Baranavichy on December 16, where he will have to serve his two-year sentence. The Prosecutor’s Office rejected the editor’s request to relocate him to a Minsk correction facility due to some health issues. Ivashkevich is not disappointed about having to go to Baranavichy. “Of all possible options it’s the best, because it’s not far from Minsk”, Radio Racyja quoted him as saying.

The editor added he is not going to stop his political activities while in exile. “I will continue performing my activities as a Belarusian Popular Front election campaign coordinator. There are a number of educational and research projects we are developing with local NGOs as well. It’s just exile, not a prison,” Ivashkevich said in an interview to Radio Racyja. The editor hopes he will be able to get a job with one of two independent Baranavichy newspapers. It is unclear, however, whether the management of the detention facility will allow him to do so. He is barred from working in his profession, and would have to accept work as a messenger. (Radio Racyja, December 13)

-- RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS --

VATICAN CONDEMNS NEW RELIGION LAW

Referring to the recently adopted religion law “On the Freedom of Faith and Religious Organizations, Jean Lui Taran, archbishop of the Vatican responsible for the relations with CIS countries, criticized the Belarusian government for passing what he called “one of the most restrictive religion laws in the world.” “It happened because the Belarusian government ignores the role religions play in a civil society. By adopting the law, they discriminated against believers and violated their own voluntary commitments,” he said at the OSCE Ministerial meeting in Portugal last week. According to Taran, “the followers of other [non-Russian orthodox] religions may fall prey to the intolerant discrimination, produced by the law and also threaten the freedom of faith for the citizens, which have the right to change their religion or have none of it.” (Charter 97, December 11)

LUKASHENKA EMBRACES ORTHODOX CHURCH

On December 12, President Lukashenko met with the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in Minsk, Interfax reported. At the meeting, Lukashenko praised the new religion law, calling it a “timely and advanced law, which puts all things where they belong de-jure and de-facto.”

President Lukashenko says he supports the “new and interesting initiative of the Belarusian Orthodox Church to sign an agreement between the church and the state.” According to Interfax, this agreement should specify forms, methods, directions and scope of application of common efforts. The agreement can be signed as early as January-February next year, Lukashenko added (Interfax, December 12)

DISCRIMINATIVE RELIGIOUS LAW STARTS TO BITE

On December 10 the administration of the Frunzensky District Court of Minsk convened the leaders of religious communities, registered in the district in order to familiarize them with the new religion law and its requirements The meeting also attracted Alla Ryabitseva, head of the City Department for Religions and Nationalities. According to those present at the meeting, she told the audience that from now on even Bible studies held in private in apartments require official sanction for such studies at home are also regarded as church services under the new law. According to Dina Shevtsova, a lawyer from the “Jesus Christ’s Church,” this requirement can jeopardize a vast majority of non-Orthodox religious activities in the country because such Bible studies that is weekly assemblies of believers at homes are the basic type of services in the Evangelic churches. (December 12, Svoboda Sovesti)

PENTECOSTALS ACCUSE RESPUBLIKA OF PUBLISHING INFLAMMATORY ARTICLE

Bishop Sergei Khomich, leader of the Pentecostal Union, the second largest protestant confession in Belarus, appealed to Anatoly Lemeshonok, editor-in-chief of Respublika, a state-run newspaper founded by the Belarusian Council of Ministers. The appeal followed an article titled “Proroki and Poroki” [Prophets and Sins] by Vasily Baranov published in the newspaper on November 20, 2002. In the article (can be found at http://www.respublika.info/cgi-bin/page.pl?page=47ST65.DOC&date=20112002), which was probably inspired by the new religion law, Baranov bluntly accused several religious charities and publishing houses of making illicit profits and of “soul snatching.” Noting that “donations are the main source funds for churches,” the bishop called the article “inflammatory” and voiced concerns that it may inspire backlash against non-Orthodox churches. (ILHR, December 3)

-- BROTHER SLAVS --

RUSSIA, BELARUS REACH AGREEMENT ON GAS SUPPLIES

Officials from Russia and Belarus reached an agreement on December 10 on supplies of natural gas from Russia to its smaller neighbor next year. Negotiators led by Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian Prime Minister, and Gennady Novitsky, his Belarusian counterpart, agreed that Russia will provide Belarus with 18.5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2003, the Interfax news agency reported The supplies will include 10.2 billion cubic meters at artificially low domestic prices from the Russian monopoly Gazprom, it said. Gazprom had warned Belarus last month that it would cut supplies because of debts for previous deliveries, a step Belarusian President Lukashenko angrily described as "politically motivated economic terrorism." But Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin patched up relations later in November. At that time, Lukashenko promised to put the pipeline that carries Russian gas through Belarus toward western Europe up for privatization, and Putin assured him Belarus would receive the gas it needs. Gazprom is interested in further expanding its network in Europe, and the Belarusian system is a key link. (Interfax, December 10)

ANTHEM AND COMMON CURRENCY FOR UNION

On Tuesday, December 10, members of a commission charged with choosing an anthem for the Russia-Belarus union met in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and listened to some of the 115 offerings already submitted, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Gennady Seleznyov, the Duma speaker and chairman of a Russia-Belarus parliamentary assembly, said a jury would make its choice in the spring and submit it to the assembly for approval. The Assembly is also to approve a flag and seal of the union, Seleznyov said. "The idea of creating a union anthem has heightened interest in the union state," Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. The union dates back to 1996 and, despite attempts to develop it, is little more than a vehicle for consultation on trade and other issues. Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian Prime Minister, said on December 9 that Russia wants to introduce a single currency for the union in 2004, a year earlier than planned, but that disagreements over a money-printing center must be ironed out first, Interfax reported. Lukashenko long called for a single state, but he backed off after Putin angered him in August by saying that if the two former Soviet republics are to become one, the new country would have the Russian Constitution as its basis, suggesting Belarus would be subordinate to Moscow. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, December 10)

-- AT HOME IN BELARUS --

LUKASHENKO REWARDS HIS LOYAL SERVANTS

Last week, President Lukashenko appointed a number of ambassadors. Pavel Latushko, a a prominent spokesman of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, was appointed as Belarus's ambassador to Poland. (BelTA, December 8)

BELARUSIAN JUDGE FOUND HANGED IN FOREST

The body Vladimir Atrashkevich, the chairman of the Novopolatsk City Court, was found hanged in a forest opposite the court house on December 6. According to the officials from the Novopolatsk prosecutor's office, the court chairman was missing for two days. There was an anonymous telephone call to Novopolatsk law-enforcement agencies on December 6. An unidentified caller reported that a man's corpse was found in the forest. A group of officers from the Prosecutor's Office and the police arrived on the spot and found Vladimir Atrashkevich's body. A criminal investigation is not yet launched. The Prosecutor's Office reported that there were no traces of violence found on the body and most likely, the judge’s death was a suicide. This case eerily resembles that of Mykhaylo Kolomiyets, a Ukrainian news agency director who was found hanged in a Belarusian forest outside Minsk at the end of October and buried by the local authorities before he could be identified. (Belapan, December 9)

-- INTERNATIONAL NEWS --

NATO UPHOLDS EU POLICY TOWARDS LUKASHENKO

NATO shares the views of the European Union with respect to Lukashenko’s Belarus , said George Robertson, NATO’s Secretary General at a press conference held in Moscow on December 9, reported Itar-Tass. Robertson stressed that “certain aspects of Lukashenko’s human rights record are inadmissible for the international community.” (Itar-Tass, December 9)

BELARUS, OSCE BEGIN TALKS IN VIENNA

Representatives of the Belarusian government and the OSCE began talks in Vienna on December 9, trying to reach a compromise on the OSCE mission in Belarus, Belapan reported. Victor Gaisenok, Belarus's permanent representative to the OSCE and ambassador to Austria, represents Belarus at the negotiations. Antonio Martins da Cruz, Portuguese Foreign Minister and current Chairman-in-office, announced last week that Minsk promised that the talks will yield specific results by the end of this year. (Belapan, December 10)

BELARUS PRESS DENOUNCES US, HOPES FOR END OF IRAQ SANCTIONS

President Lukashenko accused the U.S. of hampering trade with Iraq and said he hopes U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime will be lifted. He made these remarks at a meeting with Ahmed Daifa, the outgoing Iraqi Ambassador to Belarus. "We have concluded contracts worth $300 million with Iraq, and if not for hindrances on the part of the United States in the U.N. sanctions committee, bilateral cooperation would move to a higher level," said Lukashenko.

Lukashenko said he hopes that "the reasonable policies of the Iraqi leadership will enable Iraq to honorably extricate itself from the situation that has developed, and that the U.N. sanctions will be lifted." Ahmed said Iraq's relations with Belarus "are developing thanks to the direct interest of their leaders, Alexander Lukashenko and Saddam Hussein." (Belapan, December 10)

NORWAY BARS VISITS BY BELARUS PRESIDENT, TOP OFFICIALS

Norway barred travel by the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his top officials Thursday, following 14 European Union members and the U.S. in a protest against alleged human rights violations in the former Soviet Republic. All 15 E.U. nations except Portugal say they won't grant entry visas to Lukashenko and seven government officials. The U.S. followed up with its own ban shortly afterward. Norway's ban was also a response to the government's decision to largely close down an office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last month. "The background for these measures is the Belarus regime's lack of willingness to cooperate, especially with the OSCE," a Norwegian Foreign Ministry statement said. Norway isn't a member of the European Union but is closely tied to the bloc through the European Economic Area agreement. (AP, December 12)

слухаць Радыё рацыя Міжнародная федэрацыя правоў чалавека Беларуская Інтэрнэт-Бібліятэка КАМУНІКАТ Грамадзкі вэб-архіў ВЫТОКІ Антидискриминационный центр АДЦ 'Мемориал' Prava-BY.info Беларускі Праўны Партал Межрегиональная правозащитная группа - Воронеж/Черноземье
Московская Хельсинкская группа
Молодежное Правозащитное Движение
amnesty international