HUMAN RIGHTS REVIEW IN NOVEMBER, 2003
November was marked by intensified repression of participants of peaceful assemblies and rallies, with some new tendencies in this field. Organizers were tried for spreading information about future events. Artur Finkevich, organizer of “No to the Third Referendum!”, was sentenced to 15 days of jail twice. Thus, he is to serve 30 days. This is the first precedent of an individual receiving a maximum sentence for the same offence. The Belarusian authorities managed to create an extremely unfavorable legislative climate for the non-governmental sector development. Liquidation of NGOs continues. The Supreme Court satisfies all liquidation cases, initiated by the Ministry of Justice. A negative conclusion of the national commission for registration (re-registration of NGOs and political parties) is enough for a new NGO to fail registration procedure. Every month NGOs and political parties lose space for legal activities. Using the scheme, tested on NGOs, the Ministry of Justice issued a warning to Belarusian Social Democratic Party Narodnaya Hramada, which in future might lead to liquidation of the party. Simultaneously, the authorities openly stimulate creation of GONGOs – governmental non-governmental organizations and have introduced an obligatory course “Ideology of the Belarusian State” in all schools and universities of the country.
1. Liquidation of NGOs
On November 11 the Supreme Court Judge Valentina Kulik ruled to liquidate Association of Young Entrepreneurs, satisfying the Ministry of Justice suit of “violations in registration of the NGO’s legal address”. Besides that, the NGO was charged for having the position of “president” in the management structure. At present the Belarusian legislation allows only Alexander Lukashenka to be called President.
November 24 the liquidation decision on Ratusha case came into effect. The Supreme Court Board on civic cases rejected the Ratusha complaint against the decision of Hrodna regional court on the NGO’s liquidation. The Board on civic cases, composed of judges Sharoika, Bakenouskaya, and Yakhnavets, left the previous decision of August 21 unaltered.
November 11 the Justice Ministry refused registration to the Assembly of Democratic NGOs. The reason for refusal was the negative decision of the National Commission for Registration (Re-registration) of NGOs.
The organization leadership received the Ministry’s reply to their application on November 17. The Ministry informs Young Social Democrats the decision to deny registration was taken on the basis of conclusions made by the National Commission for Registration (Re-registration) of political parties and non-governmental organizations. The Ministry of Justice lists five reasons for the negative decision on registration: disagreement with goals and objectives of the organization; absence of other conditions for membership besides agreement with the organization Statute; presence of 2 governing bodies within the organization structure; problems with organizational structures of YSD, and inaccuracies in the minutes of the founding congress.
2. Ban on Activities of Human Rights Organizations
On November 5 Minsk city court dismissed the case filed by Independent Society of Legal Research about withdrawal of 2 warnings. The NGO chairperson Alena Tankachova said, “De jure this is not liquidation yet, but de-facto it is one”. During 5 years the organization appeared in court for about 40 NGOs.
On November 27 the Supreme Court liquidated charity NGO “Helping Hand” under Art 57 of the Civic Code. The NGO helped prisoners, organized psychological rehabilitation to former prisoners and distributed humanitarian aid in prisons.
3. Pressure on political parties
November 26 the Justice Ministry issued a warning to Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Narodnaya Hramada” for an article, published in the Narodnaya Volya. The article “Ship Needs Compass to Find Its Moorage” was written by Anatol Leukovich, chair of Brest party branch. The warning, signed by Justice Minister Halavanau, says, Leukovich insulted “honor, dignity and reputation of the state bodies of the Republic of Belarus”, as well as of community representatives and personally Alexander Lukashenka. The Justice Ministry demanded to disband the Brest branch of the party.
4. Persecution of public activists
November 27 Valery Shchukin, famous journalist and member of the 13th parliament was tried in Polatsak. He faced charges of disorderly conduct (Art 156) and insubordination to legal demands of police officers (Art 166). Judge Natalla Abramava ruled to impose a fine of 165 000 Belarusian rubles (about 80 USD). On November 26 the police detained Valery Shchukin in the building of Polatsak administration. Shchukin attempted to meet Uladzimir Navumau, Minister of Internal Affairs, who had open hours for Polatsak residents that day. Shchukin planned to ask the Minister, why Belarus authorities were still using the Ruling on the USSR Passport System, adopted in 1974. On July 29, 2003 Valery Shchukin lost his lodging in Polatsak and spends nights in the waiting room of Polatsak railway station. He believes, the authorities deprived him of his Polatsak registration in the attempt to hinder his plans of running at the parliamentary election 2004.
5. Administrative Responsibility for Participation in Peaceful Actions
November 12 Chyhunachny borough court of Homel tried organizers of public voting, aimed at polling the citizens about their attitude to possible extension of presidential office of Alexander Lukashenka to the third term. Judge Aksana Novik heard the cases of UCP members Ales Karniyenka and Vasil Palakou and fined 1650 thousand Belarusian rubles (about 770 USD) each. The public voting took place in Homel on November 7 during the authorized picket. The police detained the picket organizers and charged them with violation of the order of holding mass events. The court decided, instead of the picket, they organized a rally.
On November 13 Leninski borough court of Minsk tried activists of Young Front, detained in the evening of November 12 during a rock-concert. On a concert they spread leaflets calling to join the action on November 24 against the third term of office to Lukashenka. All detained spent the night in detention. The next morning the court found them guilty under Art 167 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events). Artur Finkevich was sentenced to 15 days of jail (Art 167 part 2), because he had applied for authorization of the action of November 24, thus was the action organizer. Edward Zelenkou, Volha Varabyova, and Alena Skrebunova received fines of 330 thousand rubles (about 115 USD) each. The trials were presided by Leninski borough court of Minsk judges Alena Tserashkova and Alexander Shylko. “Viasna” lawyers Valantsin Stefanovic and Uladzimer Labkovich appeared for the detained in court.
November 17 Kastrychnitski borough court of Vitebsk tried activists of Christian Conservative Party, detained on November 2, the Ancestors’ Day. The party activists set crosses on Vitebsk Uspenskaya hill, the mass execution place during Stalin repression. Ihar Matveyeu, Yan Dzerzhautseu, Ales Pazniak, and Alexander Salauyan were warned. Uladzimir Pleshchanka was found guilty of organizing an unauthorized procession and fined 2.5 million rubles (about 1250 USD).
November 25, 2003 Savetski borough court of Minsk tried participants of the action against the possible referendum on extension of the presidential office of Lukashenka to the third term. During the action on November 24 the police detained 17 people, most of them under age. The results of the trials are the following:
Zmitser Dashkevich (Judge Ruslan Kazadayeu) – 15 days of jail;
Ales Zapartyka (Judge Natalla Skuharova) – 5 days of jail;
Vasil Parfiankou (Judge Natalla Skuharova) – 15 days of jail.
November 27, 2003 Savetski borough court of Minsk sentenced Artur Finkevich to 15 days of jail. Judge Ruslan Kazadayeu made the decision the day when the term of Finkevich’s previous sentence was over. Let us remind you, on November 13 Artur Finkevich received 15 days of jail for spreading leaflets calling to join the action against the possible third term of Lukashenka’s presidential office. When the first sentence was over, Finkevich was not released. The police took him from the detention center right to Savetski borough police board, where they drew up a report under Art 167.1 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences. He was charged with spreading leaflets, he had been detained for in the beginning of November. On the basis of the police report Judge Ruslan Kazadayeu sentenced Finkevich to another 15 days of jail. Uladzimer Labkovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", says “this is the first precedent, when an individual is sentenced twice to a maximum term for the same actions (although separate in time). In this case the Judge violates the Code of Administrative Offences, as well as the Constitution. The law prohibits the possibility to convict an individual twice for the same action”.
On November 30 Minsk police detained 8 participants of action “Public Voting – Third Term”, which took place on Minsk markets. The detained, Ludmila Hraznova, Andrus Kozel, Aleh Tarasevich, and Ihar Arlou among them, were taken to Savetski borough police board.
6. Interference of the Authorities with Activities of Mass Media and the Right to Freedom of Speech.
November 27 the Supreme Economic Court rejected the suit, filed by the Salidarnasts newspaper against the decision of the State Control Committee, which imposed economic sanctions on the newspaper. Thus, the court recognized, that a 2000 USD fine for failure to comply with GOST standards was legal. BAJ press service reports, the Committee for State Control blocked the newspaper account in the end of October. In June the Committee fined the newspaper over 4 million rubles (2 000 USD) as the result of the check-up of newspaper activities. According to the Committee’s report, the Salidarnasts did not meet the requirements of GOST (Inter-state Standard), failing to indicate its founding date and volume in printer’s sheets. The newspaper editor A. Starykevich believes, the claims appeared because the Salidarnasts published materials by the journalists of the suspended BDG.
7. Disappearance of Public Figures in Belarus
The authorities refused to invite famous human rights defender Sergey Kovalyov as a representative of PACE Special Commission, which investigates into cases of the missing public figures in Belarus. Instead of Kovalyov, Christos Purgurides, Cyprus MP, visited Minsk on November 5-8.
November 28, Frunzenski borough court of Minsk ruled to recognize ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, missing since July 7, 2000, dead. At the same time, the investigation into Zavadski’s case is suspended, his body is not found, and the convicted on the case were sentenced not foe murder, but kidnapping only. ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet, who worked together with Zavadski, is convinced, the guilty is the group, who had killed the opposition politicians and executed other criminal orders of the Belarus leadership. Sheremet believes, the killers are to be found in the circle of Colonel Dzmitry Pavlichenka, former commander of special forces squad.
Information Department of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"