Monthly Review of Human Rights Violations in Belarus – January 2003
Human rights situation in Belarus shows no signs of changes for the better – the public continues to observe arrests of opponents of the President Alexander Lukashenka, persecution of the independent mass media, first displays of the consequences of the discrimination Law “About Freedom of Consciousness and Religious Organizations”, and execution of death sentences. In spite of the fact, that the international community recognized the presidential election of 2001 as not meeting the standards of democratic, open and transparent elections, the authorities continue to violate these standards during the election campaign to the local Soviets of Deputies.
1. ARRESTS FOR PARTICIPATION IN PEACEFUL STREET ACTIONS
On 8 January Vitebsk resident Fiodr Bakunow was sentenced to 10 days of jail. He participated in unauthorized picket on 30 October 2002, timed to the Day of Commemoration of Victims of Political Repression.
On 29 January Centralny borough court of Minsk sentenced Viachaslaw Siwchyk to 10 days of jail. Siwchyk was charged under Art 167 par 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences “Violating procedure of organizing and holding meetings, rallies, street processions, demonstrations and picketing”. He was found guilty of participation in unauthorized anti-Union of Belarus and Russia picket on 19 January.
On 30 January Hrodna artist Dzmitry Ivanowski, jailed for participation in an unauthorized rally, started a hunger strike. Leninski borough court of Hrodna sentenced him to 15 days of arrest under Art 167 par 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences. On 28 January he participated in unauthorized rally of entrepreneurs, which gathered about 400 businessmen.
2. DISAPPEARANCE OF PUBLIC FIGURES IN BELARUS
On 20 January the term of preliminary investigation of Hanchar and Krasowski’s disappearance was over. Viktar Hanchar was acting chairperson of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation. He disappeared together with Anatol Krasowski, entrepreneur. Uladzimir Chumachenka, head of the investigation group, informed about suspension of the case, because “at present it has no prospects”.
On 20 January the families of the kidnapped Belarusian public figures initiated a street action, dedicated to the disappearance of Yury Korban. Korban, 24, student of the University of Vitebsk, head of the center of youth initiatives “Contour”, activist of BPF party, disappeared 1 year ago. Just before his disappearance he was taking an active part in the presidential election campaign. About 50 action participants addressed the heads of the state-owned mass media, who either say nothing about the problem of political disappearances, or provide information in distorted or offensive way.
3. CASES OF CRUEL AND INHUMANE TREATMENT
On 9 January Homel police beat Zubr activist Denis Chykalow
On 16 January strangers brutally beat public figure, academician Radzim Haretski. He was coming home after the meeting of the steering committee for celebration of the 85th anniversary of declaration of the Belarusian People’s Republic. He was taken to neuro-surgery department of hospital #9 and undergone an emergency-surgery.
4. DISCRIMINATION ON RELIGIOUS BASIS
In Stolin some Orthodox priests initiated persecution of MP Ivan Pashkevich, who stood against discrimination Law "On Freedom of Consciousness and Religious Organizations". The priests organized signature collection in churches under demand “to appoint the date and place of the Meeting for raising the issue of revocation of MP Ivan Pashkevich" because "He took a strongly negative stand about the draft law "About Freedom of Consciousness and Religious Organizations”, which is to oppose the spreading of destructive and alien to our society new religious movements”.
On 23 January Zavodski borough court of Minsk considered the case of Alexander Mikhalenkaw, Baptist Church pastor. On 12 January a local policeman reported he “violated the established procedure of organizing and holding religious meetings”. Mikhalenkaw was charged under Art 167-1 par 1 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which provides for an official warning, fine from 20 to 150 basic units (1 unit = 12,000 = $6), or 3to 15 days of jail. Judge Mikalai Balawniow dropped the charges because of lack of formal components of offence.
5. BIASED COURT DECISIONS
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus did not satisfy the complaint of Andrei Alakhnovich, former teacher of Krupki secondary school. Alakhnovich was fired from work in 2001 for participation in the presidential election campaign.
On 29 January the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus did not satisfy the suit of The Belarusian Language Society, one of the most mass and influential non-governmental organizations in Belarus. BLS appealed against the unfair official warning, issued by the Ministry of Justice.
6. INTERFERENCE OF THE AUTHORITIES TO MASS MEDIA ACTIVITIES. VIOLATIONS OF THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Smarhon executive committee is trying to close down The Novaya Hazeta Smarhoni. The Novaya Hazeta Smarhoni is one of the biggest independent regional newspapers in Belarus, published by entrepreneur Ulan Ramuald. On 24 December 2002 Ramuald received summons to court. On 24 January the court will hear the suit of Smarhon executive committee about depriving him of entrepreneur’s status. Article 19, Universal Campaign for the Freedom of Speech, is deeply concerned about the fact, that The Novaya Hazeta Smarhoni faces the threat of closing down because of the charges, initiated by the city authorities.
7. VIOLATIONS OF THE ELECTION LEGISLATION
Territorial election commissions are formed with violation of the principle of wide public representations. Representatives of political parties are the most under-represented.
Big number of local election commissions were formed out of people, nominated by working collectives and people, nominated by the citizens (by signature collection), who, in their turn, were employees of the same companies or institutions. There was a strong tendency to form local election commissions out of representatives of one enterprise or institution. For instance, in Navapolatsk election commissions of polling stations # 7 and 8 are created out of workers of state company "Naftan" and its structural units, polling stations # 9, and 37 – out of workers of "Palimer" state company. Other local commissions are represented by the working collectives of secondary schools, other companies and institutions of Navapolatsk. The local authorities ignored representatives of democratic political parties and non-governmental organizations, nominated to election commissions.
Commission members, who have been officially warned for breaking election legislation during the presidential campaign, are becoming members of election commissions again. N. M. Bukanava has become member of district election commission #38 of Homel. During the presidential election Bukanava served as a secretary of election commission #38 of Homel and received an official warning from Chyhunachny prosecutor's office for violation of the election legislation (Art 3 part 3). On 6 September 2001 during the presidential campaign Bukanava refused to register observer I. M. Adamenka, who had been nominated by Belarusian National Voters' Club.
Citizens, who wish to run in the local election, experience high pressure.
On 17 January 2003 electrician Aleh Dydyshka was called to the office of the trade union committee of Electro-Lamp Factory. Committee head Savitski and deputy personnel director Pawluk met him in the room. They promised to do everything possible to prevent Dydyshka from running and recommended to "think thoroughly", if it was worth running at all. In Maladechna the authorities postponed candidate’s registration for Viasna activist Ales Kaputski and threaten him with criminal charges.
8. DEATH PENALTIES CONTINUE TO BE CARRIED OUT IN BELARUS
On 24 January press conference Uladzimir Kowchur, head of the Committee for Enforcement of Sentences at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, informed that in 2003 one death sentence was carried out.