Review of Human Rights Violations for February
The facts of human rights violations negatively characterized the pre-electoral situation in the country: the arrests of opposition-minded youth continued, the consequences of the discriminatory law “About freedom of conscience and religious organizations” manifested. The pressure of the authorities on the independent regional press became more evident, being especially intensive during the election into local Deputy Soviets. In spite of the fact that the international community found that the Presidential election of 2001 in Belarus failed to meet the democratic standards of publicity, openness and clarity, violations of these standards were going on during the electoral campaign of the election into local Deputy Soviets, appointed on 2 March.
1. Administrative arrests for participation in street actions.
On 17 February Minsk Savetski Borough Court tried the persons, detained after the unauthorized action I Love Belarus!, held on 14 February by the unregistered organization Young Front . The detainees were charged with violation of Article No. 167.1 of the Code of Administrative Violations of the Republic of Belarus (organization of and participation in unauthorized processions. Piatro Kewlew was sentenced to 5 days of jail, Zmitser Filipovich and Aleh Miadzvedzew – to 7 days, Pavel Seviarynets and Artur Finkevich – to 10.
2. The problem of disappearances of public activists in Belarus.
Ivan Branchel, the main investigator of disappearance of the ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski, decided to suspend the investigation. In the note he submitted to Zavadski’s wife, Volha, the following reason was mentioned: “as the persons missing hasn’t been found”.
Zinaida Hanchar and Iryna Krasowskaya submitted a complaint to Minsk City Prosecutor’s office demanding to renew the investigation of disappearances of their husbands, vice-Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation Viktar Hanchar and the businessman Anatol Krasowski, abducted on 16 September 1999. The complaint described all violations made by the Prosecutor’s office investigators for the three years of investigations. The wives of the missing demand to pass the case to Belarusian KGB.
3. Linguistic discrimination
On 12 February 2003 Yuliya Dzenisenka, secretary of Homel City Electoral Commission, Chairperson of the department of organizational staff work at Homel City Executive Committee, categorically refused to print in Belarusian the biographical information of the candidates to deputy positions Ivan Yatskow and Andrei Baranaw. She explained it with the fact that all other candidates printed their information in Russian and she wouldn’t make any exclusion because of the insufficient technical provision. The Law about languages of the Republic of Belarus says that Belarus has two State languages – Russian and Belarusian. The law provides citizens with the right to apply to State bodies in either of the languages. Article No. 12 stated that all electoral materials are to be published in both languages. This law also obliges all duty officials to have command of the two languages.
4. Religious discrimination
On 5 February representatives of Krishna Conscience societies applied to the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus, to the government, the Chamber of Representatives of the Republic of Belarus, to human rights organizations and Embassies. The Krishna believers state that after the adoption of the Law “About freedom of conscience and religious organizations” they faced with problems maintaining the main directions of activity – distribution of religious literature and free of charge handing of vegetarian food. The believers who do it in the streets are detained by the police, who draw reports of administrative violations. There are “insurmountable obstacles for registration of new religious associations, believers are threatened with quits and soul asylum”.
5. Non-objective court decisions
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus left in force the verdict to the journalist of the independent newspaper Pahonia Pavel Mazheyka. In June 2002 the journalist was sentenced to two years of personal restraint for alleged violation of Article No. 367, part 2, of the Criminal Code, then the term was reduced by one year in accordance with the amnesty law. Now the journalist spends his term in open personal restraint institution No. 1 in Zhlobin.
6. Interference of the authorities with the activities of mass media and realization of the right to speech liberty.
On 3 February, as a result of the suit of a district executive committee against the businessman Ramuald Ulan, Judge of Hrodna Regional Economic Court Zmitser Lamanik ruled to suspend the business activity of the defendant till 3 May. This decision automatically results in liquidation of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni, as R. Ulan is its only founder.
On 12 February Minsk Regional Economic Court continued consideration of the suit against Minsk Regional Executive Committee, filed by representatives of the recently closed independent newspaper Mestnoye Vremya. The plaintiffs demanded to set aside the committee decision as a result of which the Ministry of Information annulled the newspaper’s registration certificate. However, Judge Aliaksandr Brahin suspended of the suit consideration referring to the fact that the newspaper was excluded from the register of the financial inspection, no more being a juridical body. Anatol Huliayew, Mestnoye Vremya editor-in-chief, considers the decision to liquidate the newspaper as politically motivated.
7. Unauthorized night search
At night between 15 and 16 February in Hrodna the police illegally searched the flat belonging to Valery Levanewski, Chairman of the Strike Committee of businessmen of the Republic of Belarus. The search started at 10.30 p.m. and ended at 00.15 a.m. with confiscation of risograph. The policemen refused to show the Prosecutor’s order for the search and the protocol of the property impound. One of the policemen explained that the search was carried out on the order of the duty officer of Horadnia Leninski BBIA. It’s worth mentioning that night searches which are not authorized by the Prosecutor, are prohibited by the Criminal-Process Code.
8. Violation of the principles of democracy, publicity, openness and clearness of the election into local Deputy Soviets, appointed on 2 March.
At the election into local Deputy Soviets the authorities repeated the scenario of forcible early voting employed in the elections of 2000-2001, which witnesses their intention to manipulate the results. Activists of political parties and public associations fixed numerous facts of forcible early voting. Members of “Viasna” made a photo of the advertisement standing beside the watchman’s table at the entrance of the hostel of Medicine Academy of Post-graduate Studies. The ad urges the students to vote before the election day: “Dear doctors! We ask you to vote early. Inform the hostel commandant about your early voting”.
On 25 February the Central Electoral Commission refused to admit the US Embassy workers to monitoring of the election into local Deputy Soviets, saying the Commission didn’t submit any invitations to them. The US Embassy in Minsk is of opinion that this CEC decision contradicts to its note, spread to all embassies, accredited in Belarus on 24 February, stating that “All measures on holding of the election, forming of the electoral circuits and electoral commissions, nominations of candidates, their registration, open and free discussion of their pre-electoral programs, provision of clearness of the electoral process, participation of local and foreign observers are open for the society in conformity with the principles of openness, expediency for provision of the democratic nature of the election”.