Human Rights Center "Viasna" Review of Human Rights Violations in Belarus -- March 2004
In March 2004 Belarusian authorities launched politically-motivated criminal actions against Anatol Labedzka, leader of United Civic Party, and Belarusian Helsinki Committee chairperson Tatsiana Protska and accountant Tatsiana Rudkevich.
This month young people organized protests against compulsory membership in pro-governmental organizations. On 2 March members of a local organization of BRSM (pro-presidential Belarusian National Union of Youth) in Baranavichy college of light industry together with their chairperson Mikita Sasim joined the opposition youth movement Zubr.
Secretary of BRSM organization of Barysaw High School #1 Krystsina Kalameets announced March she gives up her post and joins Zubr. She said she was tired of blackmailing and threats used by BRSM leadership to increase the number of members.
The authorities violated the rights of citizens to peaceful assemblies, arrested participants of peaceful street actions and continued the campaign against non-governmental organizations. Control over activities of religious organizations has become tougher: in Belarus provinces religious organizations activities are supervised not only by independent experts but by a number of commissions created to monitor the observance of the Law on religions.
1. NGOs Liquidated and Denied Registration
Minsk NGO Dyaryush working in the sphere of culture and education received a warning from the Justice Department of Minsk city administration. The warning was grounded on the fact that resident of another city was a member of the NGO.
Hrodna city administration denied registration to Ratusha Regional Development Foundation, created by activists of Ratusha NGO liquidated in 2003.
On 16 March property of the Will for Development NGO (Slonim) was seized. On 12-16 March tax inspection carried out an unscheduled check-up of the NGO which worked on a TACIS program. Inspectors allegedly found out the NGO failed to pay taxes. The same day Belarusian TV accused Mikhail Varanets, head of the organization, of violation of the tax legislation. Mikhail Varanets has documents, signed by the executive director of the Coordinative Bureau of TACIS Leanid Arlow according to which the organization was exempt from taxation.
On 29 March, chairperson of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialatski was summoned to the Prosecutor’s General Office.
Prosecutor Novikaw asked a number of questions about Bialatski’s activity in non-governmental organizations, the Assembly of Democratic NGOs and its magazine "Assembly''. Bialatski answered that according to Art 27 of the Constitution he has the right not to provide information which can be used against him.
2. Human Rights Organizations Activities Banned
On 9 March Zmitser Salawyow, a representative of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in Navapolatsak, was visited by the city tax inspection in his office. They claimed their purpose was to check “his activities connected to offering services to people”. This is not the first attempt to press on the human rights activist. Recently he has been summoned by police and by prosecutor’s office and warned about possible prosecution for acting on behalf of unregistered (liquidated) body.
On 1 March the board of the Belarusian Supreme Court chaired by Judge Yakhnavets did not satisfy a cassation appeal of the Independent Society of Legal Research (ISLR). ISLR appealed against the decision of Minsk city court which on 29 January 2004 ruled to liquidate the NGO.
3. Freedom of Consciousness Violated
The leadership of Protestant churches applied to the Constitutional Court demanding to recognize a number of provisions of the Law "On the Freedom of Consciousness…” conflicting with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. They claim, “The Law limited religious rights of citizens and created obstacles for activity of legal and officially registered religious organizations”.
4. Politically-Motivated Criminal Actions
On 17 March the Prosecutor’s General office instigated criminal proceedings against Anatol Labedzka, chair of United Civic Party. The criminal action was initiated after analysis of Labedzka’s interview, broadcasted on 21 February by Zerkalo program on RTR and on 22 February by Namedni program of NTV Russian channels. The criminal action is instigated under Art 367 part 2 of the Criminal Code (“Slandering the President of the Republic of Belarus”). The case is sent to Minsk prosecutor’s office for investigation. Anatol Labedzka faces up to 5 years of imprisonment.
On 17 March the Department for Financial Investigation of the State Control Committee instigated proceedings against chairperson of Belarusian Helsinki Committee Tatsiana Protska and its accountant Tatsiana Rudkevich. They are accused of failure to pay BHC taxes (in the amount of about 180 000 USD) during 2000-2003 for activities in the framework of TACIS program.
5. Violation of the right to peaceful assemblies
On 3 March Hrodna businessman Dzmitry Ivanowski went on hunger-strike. Dzmitry Ivanowski was sentenced to 10 days of arrest for organization of a "Silent Rally" of businessmen which took place on March 1 near the administration building.
On 10 March activists of Zubr movement Mikita Sasim and Andrei Chyzh were sentenced to 10 and 7 days of jail respectively for spreading newspapers in Baranavichy College of light industry.
On 10 March about 50 people participated in the “Stop Lukamol!” action in Barysaw. The action participants protested against forced membership in pro-Lukashenka BRSM. After the action the police detained Alexander Monich, Zmitser Barodka, and Ihar Lednik. They were charged with violation of Art 167-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences.
On 23 March Slonim police detained representatives of the People’s Coalition “5+”: deputy head of Belarusian Party of Communists Alena Skryhan, head of Belarusian Popular Front Vincuk Viacorka, and member of the United Civic Party Anatol Pawlaw. They arrived to Slonim on the invitation of local councilor Ivan Sheha, who was organizing a meeting with voters.
On 24 March police detained 8 students and graduates of Belarusian Lyceum closed down by the authorities in 2003 and father of one of the students. On 24 March about 60 lyceum students stood along the main avenue with posters “The Lyceum wants to live, don’t let it die”.
When the action was over the police detained five lyceum students: Adela Dubavets, Yulia Bandarenka, Volha Kavalova, Maryla Vasiuchenka, and Tatsiana Abramchuk. They also detained three girls who watched the action.
On 25 March on Freedom Square police detained participants of the Freedom Day – the 86th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic – celebration. The detained were taken to Centralny borough police board. Among the detained there are:
1. Ales Bialatski – head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" (during the detention he was knocked down and dragged to a police car)
2. Valantsin Stefanovic – lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" (he was detained when he rushed to help Bialatski)
3. Vincuk Viacorka – head of Belarusian Popular Front
4. Valantsin Matskevich
5. Uladzimir Kishkurna – head of Minsk city organization of Belarusian Popular Front.
6. Andrei Kozel – deputy head of Minsk city organization of United Civic Party (Andrei was severely beaten during the detention and in the police car).
7. Ryhor Kiyko
8. Yawhen Skochka
9. Viachaslaw Siwchyk
10. Dzianis Buinitski
11. Valantsin Baranaw
12. Aleh Hnedchyk
On 26 March Centralny borough court of Minsk tried the participants of the Freedom Day. Viachaslaw Siwchyk, Valantsin Baranaw, and Dzianis Buinitski spent the night in Centralny borough police board.
On 25 March Viachaslaw Siwchyk, Valantsin Baranaw, and Dzianis Buinitski chained themselves to lampposts on Kastrychnitskaya Square in the center of Minsk. On 26 March Centralny borough court of Minsk tried the detained:
1. Valantsin Baranaw – fined 20 basic values (about 170 USD)
2. Viachaslaw Siwchyk – fined 50 basic values (about 400 USD)
3. Dzianis Buinitski -- fined 20 basic values (about 170 USD).
On 25 March police detains 7 action participants in Salihorsk. On 26 March they were tried. BPF activists Andrei Lapanovich, Zmitser Tychyna, and head of Salihorsk branch of CCP (Conservative Christian Party) Aleh Boryn were fined 25 and 20 basic values (160 and 200 USD). College student Volha Kurlovich and handicapped Ihar Khamenka were officially warned. BPF activist Ihar Kazakow and UCP activist Andrei Nahorny refused to plead guilty and were fined 100 basic values (815 USD) each.
On 28 March police detained several activists of Zubr movement on the border of Minsk and Brest regions. Among others, the police detained a Zubr coordinator Yawhen Afnahel. He was accused of organizing an unauthorized rally. He was charged with violation of Art 167-1 and 167-2 of the Code of Administrative Offences.
6. Violation of the Right to Freedom of Speech
On 3 March Viasna learned that local authorities of Brest and Hrodna regions started to collect information about sellers of independent newspapers. Uladzimir Yanukevich, chief editor of the Lakhavitski Chas and Intex-Press (Baranavichy), and Andrei Shantarovich, chief editor of the Mestnaya Gazeta (Vawkavysk) received "requests for information" about legal entities and private entrepreneurs who distribute the newspaper.
On 25 March officer of Biaroza district court Alena Kurylovich seized property of Tamara Shchapiotkina, journalist of the Gazeta Dla Vas regional newspaper. The property was seized on the ground of the ruling made by Ivatsevichy district judge Uladzimir Verabei to secure the claim of Biaroza district prosecutor assistant V. Fedchanka. Fedchanka sued the Gazeta Dla Vas newspaper and its journalist Tamara Shchapiotkina for moral damages.
On 17 March officer of Homel Chyhunachny borough court Siarhei Tsiatsera seized property of Iryna Makavetskaya, reporter of the BDG in Homel region. He executed the decision of Minsk Kastrychnitski borough court of 1 October 2003 to exact from the journalist 300 000 BYR in favor of investigator of the Prosecutor's General Office Viachaslaw Tserakhovich. The investigator sued Makavetskaya for a number of articles about investigation of the criminal case of Homel Medical Institute rector Yury Bandazhewski and Vice-rector Uladzimir Rawkow published by the BDG in 2001-2002.
7. Anti-Semitism Displays in Belarus
On 5 March Viasna learned, the leader of the World Association of Belarusian Jews left Belarus in protest against state policy of anti-Semitism.
Jacob Gutman told RFE/RL reporter, he was going to keep his Belarusian citizenship, but would live in New York until the change of the political leadership in our country.
8. Persecution of Trade Union Activists
On 8 March Hrodna trade union activist Ivan Raman was beaten on his way home. Strangers hit him in the head, and he fainted. He came to his senses in 30 minutes on a wasteland somewhere in the outskirts of the city. He had bruises on the face, a disjointed shoulder and a smashed knee. In November 2003 Ivan Raman was fired from Hrodna Aggregates Factory for his trade union activities.
On 26 March administration of Polatsak heat and power plant fired Aleh Shaitar, chair of the local Free Trade Union organization. The formal reason for dismissal was ?#152;failure to perform duties of equipment testing’.
Administration of Navapolatsak heat and power plant refused to renew the contracts of the local Free Trade Union head and two activists.