REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS – MAY 2003
In May 2003 the authorities intensified pressure on independent mass media and non-governmental organizations. The Ministry of Justice started proceedings to liquidate influential non-governmental organizations, which the authorities could not bring under control. At the same time representatives of human rights organizations had limited opportunities to appear in courts for the persecuted organizations. In the end of the month independent newspapers received a number of official reprimands, and journalists were tried. The authorities violated the freedom of consciousness.
1. The authorities continued the campaign, aimed to close down influential non-governmental organizations. The Ministry of Justice and its departments started and later postponed proceedings on liquidation cases.
Hrodna regional public association Ratusha faces liquidation for publishing activities without a special license (one of the evidence is a collection of Belarusian folk songs, printed on a copying machine). The court started and suspended the hearing until the trial over Ales Milinkevich, Ratusha head.
Public association Regional Development Agency Varuta (Baranavichy) face closure for using the short name of their organization in their inner documentation. The trial has started – and was postponed to further investigate the case materials.
Hearing on liquidation of Homel Civic Initiatives has been postponed till 9 June.
On 2 June the court will hear the liquidation case of Youth Christian Social Union. The organization faces closure for having implemented activities, not mentioned in their Statute (aid to refugees program, for instance) and refusal to provide the Ministry of Justice with a list of organization’s members.
2. Pressure on human rights organizations
On 27 May 2003 Leninski borough court of Hrodna Judge A. Prakopik did not allow Uladzimir Labkovich and Yury Chavusaw to represent Alexander Milinkevich in court. Milinkevich, head of Hrodna regional NGO Ratusha, is charged with administrative offence. The Judge referred to the presidential Decree #13, which limits the right of members of human rights organizations to represent citizens in court.
3. Politically-motivated criminal charges
On 13 May Minsk city court left Aksana Novikava’s sentence unaltered. On 4 April 2003 Centralny borough court of Minsk sentenced Aksana Novikava to 2 years of prison with suspension of the sentence. Aksana was found guilty of slandering president Lukashenka under art 367 part 2 of the Criminal Code. Aksana Novikava, 29, mother of a 2-year-old daughter, was arrested on 17 October 2002 in Minsk, while distributing self-made leaflets , where she accused Lukashenka of a number of crimes.
4. Detentions for participation in peaceful street actions
On 14 May 2003 Young Front activists Zmitser Dashkevich and Ales Tarasevich were sentenced to 10 and 3 days of jail for participation in the street action, protesting against the referendum of 1995, which resulted in the change of state symbols and given the Russian language the state status.
5. Cases of the missing public figures
On 20 May wives of the missing Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasowski filed a complaint to Centralny borough court of Minsk against the City prosecutor’s office, which had suspended investigations into what happened to them.
6. Infringement of the freedom of consciousness
On 27 May the commission for administrative offences of Maladechna city executive committee fined pastor Mikhail Balyk. He was announced guilty under Art 193 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the legislation in the sphere of freedom of consciousness). Evangelical pastor Mikhail Balyk was fined for “organizing and carrying out evangelical services every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.”.
7. Interference in the activities of mass media and violations of the freedom of speech
On 20-22 May Information Minister Mikhail Padhainy signed 5 warnings for violation of Art 5 of the law on press. During 3 days the Minister issued more warnings than during the whole 2002. According to the Belarusian legislation, 2 warnings under Art 5 during 12 months can serve the ground to close down a newspaper. The Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta (founded in 1992), The BDG. Dlya Sluzhebnogo Polzovania, The Narodnaya Volya, The Vecherni Stolin, and The Navinki are on the brink of closure. The Ministry of Information issued official reprimands to these newspapers, which can serve the ground to close them down.
On 29 May 2003 Information Minister Mikhail Padhainy suspended The Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta (founded in 1992), and The BDG. Dlya Sluzhebnogo Polzovania (founded in 2002 as a monthly supplement) for 3 months. The decision was grounded on the articles, published in the newspaper, which, according to the Minister, violate Art 5, 32, and 40 of the Law on press. On 20, 21, and 22 May the newspapers received a number of warnings from the Ministry.
Barysaw city executive committee (Minsk region) ruled to ban distribution of media in state-owned shops without a special license. Such measures seriously limited the distribution of independent periodicals.
8. Biased judicial decisions
On 13 May Savetski borough court of Minsk fined Anton Kishkurna, son of the head of Minsk city council of Belarusian Popular Front, 140,000 BYR (about $70).
The police detained Anton on 26 April near the building of Savetski borough court during the trial over his father. Anton was sitting in his father’s car, when police officers dragged him out of the car, battered his face and broke his right arm. The police charged Anton Kishkurna with disobedience to police (Art 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences).
9. Violation of the right to peaceful gatherings
On 2 May Minsk city executive committee did not allow wheel-chaired people to organize an action in defense of rights of people with limited possibilities in the center of Minsk.
10. Signs of anti-Semitism in Belarus
In Minsk unidentified vandals desecrated Jewish “Yama” memorial by spray-painting Nazi swastika there. During the Second World War the place served as a Jewish ghetto in which fascists killed over 100 thousand civilians. Vice-President of the Union of Belarusian Jewish public associations and communities Yakaw Basin says, the act was perpetrated by neo-fascists, who wrote “Holocaust 2003” in the lower part of the memorial, putting an inscription in its upper corner– “Beat up the Jews!”.
Yakaw Basin says they are preparing to address prosecutors’ office on behalf of all Jewish communities and religious associations of the country to request an investigation and institution of a criminal action. According to Basin, “in spite of all appeals of the community, nobody has ever been convicted of anti-Semitic activities”.
According to the lawyer of Arthur Liwshyts Union of Committees in Support of ex-USSR Jews, recently unidentified individuals have desecrated a Jewish cemetery in Babruisk (Mahilow region), and the monument to Holocaust victims in Tsimkavichy (Kobryn district of Brest region).