HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS REVIEW – SEPTEMBER 2003
The authorities continue their campaign against civic society in Belarus. Liquidation of non-governmental organizations, including human rights ones, attack on the independent mass media, closure of the Yakub Kolas National Lyceum, introduction of the Ideology obligatory course in all universities of the country – are elements of the single policy to wipe out dissidence, Lukashenka personally declared under the slogan of “activation of ideological work in the country”. The authorities treat NGOs as a source of uncontrolled, thus dangerous, civic activity.
1. NGOs Liquidation Campaign
The Ministry of Justice filed a suit to liquidate the Women’s Answer NGO and Cassiopeia Foundation. The suits are based on the prior warnings, the organizations received for formal and insignificant reasons.
The Supreme Court received the Justice Ministry’s suit for liquidation of Brothers Lutskevich Foundation. The formal reason is that the organization is registered in an apartment block, allegedly violating the Housing Code. The NGO is also accused of inaccuracies in record keeping.
The Independent Society for Legal Research received another warning. This is the third warning during the last two months. The NGO is warned for participation in the trials on liquidation of other NGOs. According to the legislation, two warnings for similar violations are enough for the Justice Ministry to start liquidation procedures.
Lew Sapeha Foundation received a warning from the Ministry of Justice. According to the Ministry, Mahilow branch of the NGO violated the law by letting members of non-registered groups participate in their seminars. Lew Sapeha Foundation carried out the seminars in cooperation with Jan Busch, member of German Social Democratic Party. Jan Busch was deported from Belarus for political reasons.
2. Persecution of Human Rights NGOs
On September 8, 2003 Minsk city court Judge Natalla Zhupikava ruled to satisfy the suit of the Justice Ministry and liquidate the Legal Assistance to Public NGO. The reasons are giving legal advice to citizens and using a stamp with unregistered symbols. A few days after the Judge announced her decision, the NGO head Aleh Volchak was attacked and beaten by strangers.
“Legal Assistance to Public” is one of the biggest human rights organizations in Belarus. Since 1998 it has given legal support to 4 000 people with low income.
The organization became even more popular due to participation of its representatives in the cases of the missing 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 in the stampede case at “Niamiha” subway station as the result of the police negligence.
The Supreme Court has accepted for consideration the suit of the Justice Ministry for liquidation of the largest Belarusian human rights organization, the Public association “Human Rights Center “Viasna”. This suit was signed by Viktar Halavanaw, the Justice Minister, on 2 September. The liquidation case will be heard by Judge V. Kulik.
The reasons for “Viasna” liquidation look quite addle and lame:
1. Violations of the accountancy rules; during the registration of the association in 1999 the association presented the documents that allegedly had no juridical force. Why then the Justice Ministry registered the organization in 1999 and ignored this fact during three (!!!) check-ups?
2. Failure to pay membership fees by the association members athwart the Statute demands.
3. Violation of the demands of the electoral legislation (the Ruling of the Central Electoral Commission, dated 8 September 2001, when the observers of “Human Rights Center “Viasna” were deprived of the possibility to monitor the Presidential election).
4. Violations during creation of the regional branches and non-creation of Minsk city organization.
5. Appeal to the Supreme Court concerning representation of interests and the defense of the citizens who were not “Viasna” members.
3. Representatives of International Community Have Limited Access to Belarus
On 26 September Mahilow branch of Lew Sapeha Foundation was to carry out another seminar in cooperation with German Young Socialists. The topic of the seminar was “Youth participation in the life of the society. Exchange of experience between Germany and Belarus”. Stefan Kammerling, one of German participants, was detained in Minsk airport. His visa was cancelled right there and he had to leave the country.
4. Persecution for Participation in Peaceful Street Actions
On 8 September the unregistered Belarusian Freedom Party held a picket against the war in Chechnya. Three picket participants were detained and taken to Minsk Centralny Borough Court. Siarhei Vysotski, the picket organizer, head of the party, was sentenced to 10 days of jail. Vysotski went on hunger strike in protest against the court decision. Yury Danilaw was fined 280 000 rubles (about $140). Vasil Parfiankow received an official warning.
On 16 September the police detained Andrei Kozel and Andrei Abalevich distributing leaflets at the “Chain of Concerned People” devoted to the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Viktar Hanchar (at the time of his kidnap acting head of the 13th Supreme Soviet) and businessman Anatol Krasowski. Andrei Kozel and Andrei Abalevich were detained and taken to Minsk Leninskaye Borough Board of Internal Affairs. The policemen drew up reports of alleged “violation” and confiscated the leaflets.
On 18 September Alena Tserashkova, Judge of Minsk Leninski Borough Court, fined Aksana Novikava 2 100 000 rubles (more than $1000) for picketing Lukashenka’s residence with the poster “What Did You Give 360 Million Dollars to Gazprom for?”
In April 2003 Aksana Novikava was sentenced to 2 years of conditional imprisonment with two years of probation for spreading anti-Lukashenka leaflets.
5. Disappearance of Public Figures in Belarus
On the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Viktar Hanchar his wife, Zinaida Hanchar, applied to every member of the Chamber of Representatives with the question what everyone of them had done to find out the truth about the politically-motivated kidnappings in Belarus.
In her letter she writes: “You have been a member of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus for almost three years. I am sure that You know that the investigation of the case about the disappearance of my husband has still given no results, the persons guilty are not found and remain unpunished. I ask you to answer what You have done within the limits of Your deputy powers to find out the truth about the circumstances of the disappearance of Viktar Hanchar.
I know that the Special commission on the investigation of the circumstances of politically natured disappearances in Belarus, established by the PACE Committee on legal issues and human rights, has officially applied to the MPs through V. Kanapliow. The Special Commission requested to facilitate collection of information and organization of personal meetings of the Commission members with the duty officials who, according to the Commission, might have information about the circumstances of my husband’s disappearance. What have You personally done to facilitate the work of this Commission and find out the truth? I’d like to remind you that Your position makes You more responsible for the things happening in the country. The future of the country and its citizens depends on You and Your ability or failure to act..” Zinaida Hanchar pointed out that the MPs were addressed in the framework of the Law “About citizens requests”.
She also expressed her gratitude to the MPs who do raise this issue and take concrete steps for its solution.
6. Interference of the authorities into mass media activities. Violations of the right to freedom of expression.
Minsk region economic court ruled to liquidate publisher of the Mestnoye Vremia Press newspaper. The liquidation suit was filed by Minsk regional executive committee. The suit based on the report of Minsk region tax inspection, stating it took Mestnoye Vremia Press publisher too long to make changes in the Statute because of the legal address change. Vice editor Alexander Koktysh believes, “the authorities might use the same scheme to close down practically any newspaper in Belarus”.
7. Violation of the Right to Receive Education in Native Language
Since September 1 students of the closed down Yakub Kolas lyceum studied outdoors. Now the classes are carried out in different rooms, provided by NGOs, BPF party and Catholic Church. The main reason for liquidation of the lyceum is the authorities’ policy of russification and their desire to have absolute control over the education process.
8. Anti-Semitism Manifestations
Jacob Hutman, president of the World Association of the Belarusian Jews, registered in the USA addressed the Belarusian authorities with an open letter. In the letter he suggests the state authorities should stop manifestations of state anti-Semitism in Belarus. The letter informs the Ministers of Defense, Health Care, Culture, and Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General about the situation with the Jewish cemetery in Mazyr. Mazyr, Homel region, is Hutman’s hometown. Mazyr authorities started construction on the territory of the Jewish cemetery with mass burials of the victims of the World War II, which have historic and cultural value status.
9. Persecution of Trade Union Activists
On 18 September Minsk Leninski Borough Court found Alexander Yarashuk, head of Belarusian Congress of democratic trade unions, guilty of disrespect to court (Article 166.1 of the Code of Administrative Violations) and sentenced him to 10 days of jail. Yarashuk was tried for his article “Pyrrhic Victory, or Chronicle of Diving Trade Union” about the liquidation of the trade union of air traffic controllers, published in the newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” on 21 August 2003. In the article Alexander Yarashuk called the liquidation trial, conducted by the Supreme Court, a “farce, the end of which was known before the beginning”. He also stated that Judge Halina Zhukowskaya ignored the testimonies in defense of the organization.