Human Rights Center Viasna Review of Human Rights Violations in Belarus July-August 2003
Totalitarian tendencies have reinforced in Belarus – the state attempts to control all spheres of the society life: from the right to unite in associations to freedom of consciousness. A. Lukashenka announced the creation of the single state ideology. In August the authorities groundlessly limited access of representatives of the international community to the country. Trials, initiated by the Justice Ministry, led to liquidation of three non-governmental organizations.
1. Liquidation of Non-Governmental Organizations
On 9 July Brest Regional Court liquidated Agency of regional development “Varuta” (Baranavichy).
The main evidence, considered by the court, was the newsletter, published by the NGO, where “Varuta” was called a “public organization” instead of a “public association”. The newsletter also contained a shortened name of the NGO (PO ARD “Varuta”). These technical inaccuracies led to two official warnings from the Ministry of Justice, the trial, and, subsequently, liquidation of the NGO.
On 31 July Vitebsk Regional Court ruled to liquidate the Center of Youth Initiatives “Kontur”. The reason for the suit was that since August 2000 the NGO executive body had been located in a place, different from the NGO’s legal address. The NGO was also charged with violation of the presidential Decree # 8 of March 12, 2001 and of the tax legislation. According to the Vitebsk Justice Department, the NGO had no official permission to use foreign grants. The organization became widely known for their active participation in the mobilization campaign during the presidential election of 2001. Yury Korban, chairperson of the NGO and vice-chairperson of the Young Front youth organization, has been missing since 2001.
On 21 August Hrodna Regional Court ruled to close down Hrodna NGO “Ratusha”. The NGO was liquidated for repeated actions, which had caused an official warning. Hrodna Regional Court recognized “Ratusha” had repeatedly violated the Regulations of registration of the polygraphic equipment. It also used unregistered symbols in 2000, although it had received a warning for it earlier. In fact, “Ratusha” was closed down for violation of the rules of keeping a risograph.
2. Pressure of Human Rights Organizations
In the beginning of July the Justice Ministry started the fifth in a year check-up of activities of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. During the 4 previous check-ups the authorities examined the activities of Viasna regional branches: Vitebsk, Brest, Homel, and Minsk regional branches (the latter was liquidated by the decision of the NGO’s Council). The check-ups in the regional branches started immediately after the local elections, which took place in March 2003. At present the Ministry of Justice is carrying out the full examination of the organization’s activities, checking whether its Statute meets the requirements of the acting legislation.
On 2 August the public association “Legal Assistance to Public” received a letter from Minsk City Court, saying the court was to consider the suit of the Justice Ministry’s Board for liquidation of the association.
“Legal Assistance to Public” is one of the biggest human rights organizations in Belarus. Since 1998 it has rendered legal assistance to about 4,000 people with low income. Its representatives participated in public investigation into kidnapping of ex-Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Zakharanka, vice-speaker of the Supreme Soviet Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasowski and the ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski, as well as the case of mass death at the pedestrian underground crossing of the “Niamiha” subway station as a result of the police negligence.
In August the Justice Ministry gave an official warning to Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The letter, signed by the first deputy of the Minister, says Belarusian Helsinki Committee, “in spite of verbal claims of the registering body”, uses letterheads and seal, “which do not meet the requirements of the organization Statute”. In case the Justice Ministry makes the second warning for the same violations, it may start the liquidation procedures.
3. Groundless Limitation of Access to Belarus for Representatives of the International Community.
On 18 August the authorities deported Jan Busch, member of the German Social Democratic Party. Jan Busch participated in the project “Training New Generation of Young Politicians in Belarus” as a lector. The special services accused the German national of disruptive activities and violation of ethic norms.
The Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry refused to issue visas to the OSCE representative Freimut Duve and his senior assistant. As the result, Freimut will not visit Belarus on 1-2 September, as he has planned to.
4. Persecution for Participation in Peaceful Street Actions
On 28 July participants of the action, held on 27 July and devoted to the Independence Day, were tried by Maskowski court of Minsk.
The trials took place in the building of Maskowski Board of Internal Affairs. Judge Nadzeya Rewtskaya fined Zmitser Zhamoitsits 20 minimal wages (about $150) and warned Pavel Yukhnevich.
On 25 August Minsk police detained Barys Haretski, an activist of the unregistered youth organization “Young Front”. Haretski intended to take part in the picket, devoted to the 12th anniversary of the enforcement of the Declaration of Sovereignty of Belarus, and express his protest against Belarus, Russia integration. Police lieutenant colonel Piatro Verabiow said that Haretski was detained on suspicion of money theft.
5. Cases of the Missing Public Figures
Minsk city Prosecutor’s office resumed investigation of the case of Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasowski, kidnapped on 16 September 1999.
Minsk Prosecutor Mikalai Kulik reversed the decision of Uladzimir Chumachenka, investigator of Prosecutor’s Office, to suspend the investigation. Siarhei Kukharonak, investigator of cases of particular importance of Minsk city prosecutor’s office, will investigate into the case.
6. Interference of the Authorities into Mass Media Activities and Violations of the Freedom of Speech
On 21 July Anatol Vaitsiakhowski, editor of The Mestnaya Gazeta Shag newspaper (Baranavichy) received an official letter from Slonim printing press. The letter said the printing press annulled the contract, referring to “technical reasons”. Anatol Vaitsiakhowski is convinced this was a direct consequence of their cooperation with the journalists of the recently closed down Beloruskaya Delovaya Gazeta.
Non-state newspaper The Salidarnasts (Solidarity) fined more than 2,000 dollars for support of the closed down Beloruskaya Delovaya Gazeta.
The Region-Vesti independent newspaper (Svetlahorsk) received a letter from the printing press, which informed the editor about contract annulment because of “overload with seasonal work”.
7. Violation of the Right to Receive Education in Native Language
Minsk Maskowski Court accepted suit claim against liquidation of the National State Humanities Lyceum.
The parents, who filed the suit, consider the government actions illegal, a violation of their right and the right of their children to education in Belarusian language and demanded to cancel the ruling of 25 June 2003 to liquidate the lyceum.
The lyceum was closed down due to the russification policy of the government and its attempt to impose absolute control over the education process.
8. Anti-Semitism Displays
In the night of 27 August unknown individuals attempted to set fire to the synagogue “Beys-Israel” in the Dawman Street in Minsk.
The guard noticed that the burnt carpet at the synagogue entrance and glass splinters with fuel on them. The criminal case was started.
Yury Dorn, Head of Jewish religious association in Belarus states the number the anti-Semitic manifestations in Belarus has increased. Among them there are: attempt to set fire to Beys-Israel synagogue and the synagogue on Krapotkina Street; destruction of Jewish graves on Severnyia cemetery in Minsk and desecration of the mass execution place – the Yama memorial, by swastika graffiti and texts of insulting nature.