VIASNA HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION REVIEW – DECEMBER 2003
An unfavorable legal climate for exercising the constitutional right of citizens to create and participate in associations was created in Belarus. The campaign of liquidation of non-governmental organizations, started in the spring of 2003, continues.
The authorities reject registration to NGOs on the ground of conclusions made by the National Commission for registration (re-registration) of political parties and public associations. For instance, the Association of NGOs "Assembly" had to wait for 18 months for the decision on the issue of their registration. As the result, the decision was negative – and one of the largest umbrella structures of Belarus did not acquire the legal status. On December 2, Lukashenka’s decree # 24 "About receiving and using foreign grants", and edict # 537 "about Regulations on supervision procedures over purposeful usage of foreign grants". The new edict empowered state bodies to use stricter measures of control over the foreign grants: the controlling functions are to be performed by the Committee for State Control, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry for Taxes and Duties, the State Customs Committee and its bodies, as well as the Department for Humanitarian Activities of the Board of the Presidential Affairs and the National Bank. In case of the Decree violation, NGOs and political parties face liquidation, and foreign citizens are subject to deportation from the country.
1. LIQUIDATION AND NON-REGISTRATION OF NGOS
On December 24 the Supreme Court of Belarus did not satisfy the complaint of the Assembly, an umbrella organization of NGOs. The Assembly complained against the actions of the Ministry of Justice, which refused to register the organization. Judge Sviatlana Yakhnavets decided the claims of the Assembly to the Ministry were ungrounded.
The Assembly applied for registration in April of 2002, and the Justice Ministry made the decision on October 14, 2003 only, although the law says the procedure should take no more than 1 month. Besides that, the Ministry’s decision did not contain reasons for rejection, which is a serious violation of the law. Head of the Working Group of the Assembly of democratic NGOs Ales Bialatski stated, that "even the Supreme Court is not capable to make independent decisions".
2. BAN ON ACTIVITIES OF HUMAN RIGHTS NGOS
On December 22, the Board for Civic Cases of the Supreme Court recognized the warnings, issued to the Independent Society of Legal Research by Minsk Justice Department, legal and grounded. Now Minsk city court is to resume the liquidation case against the NGO, which was suspended because of the complaint consideration.
December 24, 2003 deputy chair of the Supreme Court V. M. Vyshkevich did not satisfy the supervisory complaint, filed by Viasna against the decision of the Supreme Court. October 28 the Supreme Court Judge V. H. Kulik ruled to liquidate the Human Rights Center "Viasna". Deputy chair of the Supreme Court V. M. Vyshkevich confirmed her conclusions and rejected the complaint.
3. RESTRICTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
On 11 December the administrative commission of Kobryn District Executive Committee fined pastor of the Gospel Church Mikalai Radkevich for unauthorized liturgy. The ruling of the administrative commission read that Mikalai Radkevich “held assemblies without authorization of the district executive committee. The fact was registered on 23 November 2003”. As a result, the commission fined Mikalai Radkevich 50 000 rubles (about $25) for violation of Article 193 of the Code of Administrative Offences. According to Mikalai Radkevich, the Church is not registered, although it was founded in 1952 and has about 300 members. The pastor is sure that the Constitution doesn’t oblige believers to register to worship and thinks that the pressure is a result of the new Law “About freedom of conscience and religious organizations”.
4. CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF PUBLICLY ACTIVE CITIZENS
December 17, 2003 Aksana Novikava received summons to court. January 17, 2004 Frunzenski borough court of Minsk will hear the possibility to disaffirm the stay of execution of her sentence. In April of 2003, Aksana Novikava received 2 years of imprisonment with suspended execution of the sentence for insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus. Novikava is facing the real imprisonment for 2 years. Her case was sent to court because of her detentions for public and political activities. On August 30, September 8, and September 18 Aksana Novikava participated in pickets. In the opinion of the authorities, Novikava violated Art 167-1 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences "Organizing and conducting rallies, street marches, demonstrations and pickets".
5. ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PARTICIPATION IN PEACEFUL ACTIONS
On 7 December 2003 businessman Viktar Novikaw, member of the Private Property NGO, was detained by guards of the “Dynamo” market while handing out leaflets with invitation to participate in the action, dedicated to the Human Rights Day on 10 December. He was taken to Minsk city police department No. 1. The police drew a report for violation of Article 167.1 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The businessman had to spend the night in the detention center. On 8 December the administrative case was considered at Minsk Leninski Borough Court. Judge Zhdanok decided to fine Viktar Novikaw 20 basic values (about $156).
Maskowski borough administrative commission of Brest made a decision on the case of Nina Davydowskaya. Nina was detained on December 10, 2003 for spreading leaflets near the entry to Tsvetatron plant. She received a fine of 49,000 rubles (about 25 USD) for spreading leaflets on the Human Rights Day.
On 11 December 2003 the police detained Aksana Novikava in front of Minsk City Court for holding the poster “Belarus needs the court of jury”.
Judge A. Tochkar fined Lubow Kuchynskaya and Siarhei Rykaw 10 basic values (about 80 USD). In the end of November two ZUBR activists were detained in the town of Zaslawye for distribution of the Soprotivleniye newspaper.
Two Zubr activists were detained on December 18, when distributing leaflets with Zubr logo down town Minsk. One of the guys, Paval Yukhnevich, was charged under Art 143-3 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The case is to be sent to commission on administrative offences for consideration.
December 22 Centralny borough court of Homel sentenced Zubr activist Siarhei Siamionaw to 5 days of jail for taking part in action dedicated to the second anniversary of Andrei Zaitsaw’s death. The action of Andrei Zaitsaw’s commemoration was carried out on December 20. The court found Siarhei Siamionaw guilty of violating Articles 156 and 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences (disorderly conduct and insubordination to legal demands of police officers) and sentenced him to 5 days in jail.
6. VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH
December 19 reporters permanently accredited by the Parliament could not enter the building of the National Assembly’s Chamber of Representatives. Lukashenka was to come to the parliament session in person to introduce new prime-minister Siarhei Sidorski. Lukashenka’s security service blocked the access to the building not only for reporters of independent editions, but also reporters of the Belarusian state radio and STV channel, who do not belong to the so-called presidential pool. The following journalists could not enter the parliament building: Yury Svirko (U.S. News), Valery Kalinowski (Minsk RFE/RL), Yury Patsiomkin (BelaPAN), Viktar Martsinovich (Belorusskaya Gazeta), Natalia Hryb (Kommersant), Natalia Sharai (Vecherni Brest), Siarhei Hryts («Associated Press»), Volha Tarasevich (Obozrevatel).
Stolin district court found Alexander Ihnatsiuk, editor of the Vecherni Stolin newspaper, guilty under Art 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of authorities). Ihnatsiuk has to pay Uladzimir Pashkevich, former chairperson of Stolin district executive committee, 480 000 rubles (about 225 USD) for "intentional insult". Pashkevich requested to bring criminal charges against Ihnatsiuk after a series of critical articles about Pashkevich in The Vecherni Stolin. At the moment Pashkevich occupied the post of the head of Pinsk district executive committee.
7. PROBLEM OF DISAPPEARANCE OF PUBLIC AND POLITICAL FIGURES IN BELARUS
During his second visit to Minsk Christos Pourgourides, PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Rapporteur, planned to continue his investigation into the cases of disappearances. However, as he said in his interview to Deutsche Welle, the authorities failed to arrange meetings with officials he requested about. “The authorities cancelled the meetings. This is the evidence of a certain tendency”. Christos Pourgourides wanted to meet with officer of the special police forces Dzmitry Pawlichenka and the four convicts, found guilty of the kidnap of the ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski. He also has made an inquiry for meetings with the former officials Mikalai Lapatsik and Aleh Bazhelka. However, he was told that he had to contact them personally as they weren’t state officials any more. What concerns meetings with Pawlichenka and the “Ihnatovich gang”, “the Belarusian officials said that they had managed to “get“ the materials of the report he was writing for Strasbourg. They claimed the report showed too much criticism. As a result, President Alexander Lukashenka got mad and cancelled all those meetings“. In the beginning of January Christos Pourgourides hopes to finish his report about the disappearances. He also expressed the hope that the Russian authorities would help in the investigation of the disappearances in Belarus. Christos Pourgourides wanted to meet with Special Forces officer Zmitser Pawlichenka and the four convicts, found guilty of the kidnap of ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski. He also has made an inquiry for meetings with the former officials Mikalai Lapatsik and Aleh Bazhelka. However, he was told that he had to contact them personally as they weren’t state officials any more. What concerns meetings with Pawlichenka and the “Ihnatovich gang” the officials said that they managed to receive the materials of the report for Strasbourg that showed too much criticism. As a result President Alexander Lukashenka got angry and annulled all those meetings.
“Most probably, the representatives of the official Minsk received (in an illegal way, I believe) some information that we exchanged with my secretary. The written information I exchange with my secretaries or other workers of the Council of Europe is not a document to be used without a special permission. It is a very serious question. Besides, all negotiations that we have held in Belarus have been evidently recorded and secretly listened.”
On 10 December the Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus resumed investigation of the criminal case on disappearance of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski. The journalist’s wife Sviatlana Zavadkaya received the official notification about that. It said the criminal case on Zavadski’s disappearance is resumed “in connection with the necessity to carry out investigation activities”.
December 15 Christos Pourgourides, PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Rapporteur, presented his introductory memorandum on Disappeared persons in Belarus. In his report Mr. Pourgourides points out, “The purpose of my visit was merely to examine in a completely unbiased way whether a proper investigation of the disappearances has been conducted by the competent Belarusian authorities”. And gives an answer to this question: no, there hasn’t. “On the contrary, the interviews I conducted in Minsk, in conjunction with Mr. Alkayev’s deposition before the Ad hoc Sub-Committee and the documents or copies thereof that are in my possession, have led me to believe that steps were taken at the highest level of the State actively to cover up the true background of the disappearances, and to suspect that senior officials of the State may themselves be involved in these disappearances”. Christos Pourgourides proposes the following options for action:
“The Assembly could:
- demand that an independent investigation be launched by the competent Belarusian authorities, after the resignation of the current Prosecutor General who has been accused of having himself orchestrated the disappearances in his previous function;
- demand that criminal investigations be launched by the Belarusian authorities with a view to clarifying
• the alleged involvement of the current Prosecutor General, the current Minister of Sports (the previous Minister of the Interior), and a high-ranking officer of the special forces in the disappearances,
• the possible crime of perversion of the course of justice committed by certain other high-ranking officials who have been involved in the investigations carried out so far and who have falsified, dissimulated or suppressed evidence in their possession in order to protect the true perpetrators of the crimes.
- urge the parliament of Belarus to take the necessary action vis-à-vis the Executive to ensure that justice be done, including demanding the resignation of certain
high-ranking officials in order to enable a truly independent investigation, and the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry, complete with proper investigatory resources.
- urge the member states of the Council of Europe and the international community at large to exercise a maximum of political pressure on the current leadership of Belarus, including through sanctions, until a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking officials in the disappearances or their cover-up has been carried out.
- invite the courts of those countries whose laws foresee the international jurisdiction of their national courts for cases of serious human rights abuses to open proceedings against certain high-ranking Belarusian officials for the alleged murder, for political reasons, of one or more of the four disappeared persons.
8. UNGROUNDED LIMITATION OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES’ ACCESS TO BELARUS
Member of the international secretariat of the human rights organization “Amnesty International” Heather Macgill (Great Britain) didn’t come to Belarus for celebration of the 10th anniversary of Belarusian movement of assistance to “Amnesty International”, because Belarusian Embassy in the UK delayed her visa.
Information Department of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"