Human Rights Review – May, 2004
Human Rights Center "Viasna" – Belarus
Human Rights Review – May, 2004
In May the Belarusian authorities continued to go after political activists: three new criminal actions have been instigated. Thus, at present there are proceedings on 9 criminal cases which are considered politically-motivated. In May the special services brisked up the work, especially with the youth. The authorities arrested citizens for participation in peaceful street actions violating their rights to peaceful assemblies.
1. Pressure on NGOs
On May 7 Homel regional economic court (Judge Valantsina Puhachova) did not satisfy the suit of “Initiative” NGO. The women’s association “Initiative” sued Homel District Executive Committee for their decision not to register the new legal address of the association. Absence of legal address can result in liquidation of the NGO.
On 11 May Homel Regional Court Judge Buyankova rejected the suit of the leaders of the association “Civil Alternative” to Homel justice board that refused to register it.
On 20 May an activist of BSA from Navapolatsk was summoned by the dean of the engineering-building department of Polatsk State University Bakatovich to his office. The dean warned the girl she could have troubles for her activity in the student organization.
On May 26 Youth Association “Veras” lost a case to Vitebsk Justice Department. Judge Tatsiana Parfionava decided the warning made by the Justice Department of Vitebsk region Executive Committee on the results of a three months’ check up of the work of Veras youth NGO was legitimate.
Navapolatsk City Executive Committee officially refused to re-register the local organizations of the Free Trade Union on the heating station and the joint-stock company “Naftan”. They also refused to re-register the regional organization of the trade union.
2. Persecution of human rights organizations and activists
On 6 May Minsk Pershamaiski Borough Court started the hearings on the suit of the head of Belarusian Helsinki Committee Tatsiana Protska and her husband Zmitser Kozyr to Belarusian State TV-Company and journalist Yury Prakopaw concerning protection of honor and dignity. The reason for the suit was the program “In the center of attention”, broadcast by the national TV-channel in the evening of 29 February and repeated in the morning of 1 March 2003. The plaintiffs demand 35 million rubles as a compensation for moral damages for violation of the secrecy of their private life. Having watched the video tape and listened to both sides, Judge Ananich decided to postpone the trial to 5 June. Judge also proposed to the plaintiffs to present declarations about income and property.
On 7 May human rights activist Zmitser Salawyow was fined 10 basic values by Navapolatsk City Inspection of Dues and Taxes for having not let in the tax inspectors to his flat.
3. Politically-motivated criminal cases
On 7 May the former minister and Ambassador Mikhail Marynich was charged with illegal storage of arms. This is the only charge which KGB investigators decided to bring against Mikhail Marynich after ten days of detention at KGB detention center. Before that they stated that Mikhail Marynich was suspected of safekeeping secret documents and sale of false dollars.
On Saturday 8 May 2004 Aksana Novikava was summoned to Minsk Transport Prosecutor’s Office for familiarization with materials of the criminal action against her. She was charged with defamation of the President under Art 367 part 2 of the Criminal Code. On 5 April Aksana Novikava handed out leaflets on the central railway station of Minsk. In the leaflets she accused Lukashenka and other officials of involvement in disappearances of politicians in Belarus and other felonies.
On 18 May Valery Levanewski was charged with violation of part 2 of article 368 of the Criminal Code of Belarus – public insult of the president of the Republic of Belarus. He was put to Hrodna Investigative Isolation Ward. He will be kept for 2 months. Levanewski was to have been released after the 15-day arrest for organization of the protest action of businessmen on 1 May. On 14 May his arrest was prolonged for three days for “clarification of the circumstances”. Then he was charged with the crime and sent from the detention center to investigation jail.
On May 27 the authorities pressed charges against Zubr activists Katsiaryna Klimko and Maksim Hromaw, both aged 17. They are charged with damaging state property (Art 341 of the Criminal Code). Zubr activists were detained in the evening of May 25 while writing “Freedom to Marynich!” slogan on the public transport stops in Minsk. The police beat Maxim Hromaw when he was detained. In the beginning the young people were charged with violation of sanitation norms (Art 143 of the Code of Administrative Offences). The next morning the activists were detained again on their way to school and detained to Savetski police board. They spent the night in detention center. Now the young people are released until the trial. They face the penalty of public works, fine, or arrest of up to 3 months.
4. Violation of the citizens’ right to peaceful assemblies
On May 1 Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada) joined the official celebration of Labor Day in Yanka Kupala Park. The party activists and young social democrats unrolled white-red-white national flags and flags of the European Union. The authorities inadequately reacted to the flags. Unknown persons in plain clothes attacked the action participants. They beat people, grabbed flags and slogans. Five participants of the demonstration were detained. The detained were charged with distribution of leaflets.
On May 1 Hrodna businessmen organized a protest action. On 3 May Hrodna Leninski Borough Court sentenced head of the nationwide strike committee of businessmen Valery Levanewski (detained on 1 May for distribution of flysheets with urges to strike) to 15 days of jail. The same day the police detained his 18-year-old Uladzimir Levanewski and sentenced him to 13 days of jail. Uladzimir Levanewski’s schoolmate, 18-year-old Alaksandr Trayan, was sentenced to 3 days of jail for participation in the unauthorized action of businessmen. A businessman from Uzbekistan was arrested while trying to defend a girl whom the police tried to drag into their car and sentenced to five days of jail.
On 3 May Judge of Minsk Savetski Borough Court Natalla Skuharava sentenced Zmitser Dashkevich, activist of Young Front, to 15 days of jail for participation in the “Chernobyl March” action on 26 April.
On 7 May Salihorsk police detained five members of Salihorsk United Civil Party. Larysa Aleshka, Maria Volchak, Alaksei Prykhodzka, Yawhen Valodzka and Zmitser Laryonaw participated in the action “We Want to Know the Truth” that was held on the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of the former minister of internal affairs Yury Zakharanka. Judge of Salihorsk City Court Aksana Kalada justified all the detained.
On 7 May during the action “We Remember” in Navapolatsk the police detained 9 people: Zmitser Salawyow, Ihar Sukharukaw, Siarhei Zabrodski, Valery Shawchenka, Viktar Mudrow, Alaksandr Tsiarentsyew, Alaksei Trubkin and Ihar Valayew. Eight of them were charged with violation of part 1 of article 167.1 (participation in unauthorized action). On 11 May Navapolatsk city court justified all the action participants.
On 12 May Judge of Minsk Savetski Borough Court Ruslan Kazadayew fined head of United Civil Party Anatol Labedzka 100 basic values (about USD 1000) for participation in the Chernobyl March on April 26.
On 18 May Navapolatsk City Court considered Zmitser Salawyow’s complaint against the decision of Navapolatsk City Executive Committee to prohibit the rally where leaders of the people’s coalition “5+” intended to participate. Finally, Judge Piatro Lawchonak decided to set aside Zmitser Salawyow’s complaint because it didn’t contain all the necessary information, for instance, about medical services and cleaning of the territory.
5. Violation of the right to freedom of speech
Since 1 May everyone, who is going to make profit on subscription, is to have a special license. However, the Ministry of Communications hasn’t given licenses to anyone and therefore the state enterprise “Belposhta” is a monopolist.
On 11 May in Hrodna KGB workers confiscated equipment that belonged to members of Lew Sapeha Foundation. Because of the seizure publishing of the 15th issue of the analytical bulletin “Svoi Lad” was disrupted.
On 12 May Hrodna Leninski Borough Administrative Commission fined Uladzimir Levanewski (son of the head of the nationwide strike committee) 95 000 Belarusian rubles for violation of part 3 of Article 172 of the Code of Administrative Violations (distribution of printed production with no issue data).
On 14 May in Mahilow the police detained head of Mahilow regional branch of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Shantsaw for distribution of the newspaper “Vremya”. The police took him to the police station and confiscated 100 copies of the newspaper.
On 16 May six activists of “Zubr” movement were detained in Barysaw for handing out the unregistered newspaper Nasha Slova, issued by Belarusian Language Society. Reports for violation of Article 172 of the Code of Administrative Violations (distribution of production with no imprint) were drawn up against two detainees despite of the fact that the newspaper had the imprint.
On 18 May Svetach printing press refused to print the Novaya Hazeta Smarhoni.
On 18 May the Belarusian Popular Front filed a suit to Minsk Economic Court against the host of “In the center of attention” TV show Yury Prakopaw. He defamed the party by claiming if Vincuk Viacorka came to power he would stop all support programs to victims of Chernobyl disaster.
On 18 May Malaryta branch of BPF filed a suit to Malaryta District Court against head of the information department of Malaryta District Executive Committee S. Strok. Mr. Strok made a public statement that during the World War II the BPF supported the fascists. (BPF was created in 1988, 43 years after the end of the war).
On May 20 two activists of the unregistered youth movement “Zubr” were detained while handing out the Supratsiw newspaper. The police took Yulia Harachka and Artur Haidukevich to Minsk Centralny police station and confiscated the newspaper copies.
On May 25 Malaryta District Prosecutor’s Office rejected the appeal of Malaryta councilor Uladzimir Malei to bring a criminal action against Siarhei Strok. Strok, head of the information board of Malaryta administration publicly accused BPF (the party Malei is a member of) of collaboration with the fascists during the World War II.
On May 26 Hrodna court administrative commission ruled to confiscate Den newspaper print-run and fine the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Mikola Markevich USD 10. The Commission decided the chief editor is guilty of illegal distribution of the printed edition (Art 172 part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offences). The police claimed one of the articles, published by Den, was potentially dangerous. The article contained the opinion of the head of entrepreneurs’ strike committee Valery Levanewski, who was reflecting upon the possibilities of civil protest. Interestingly enough, the charges against Mikola Markevich were based on the law irrelevant to mass media activity, which only defines responsibility for distribution of printed materials. Besides that, according to Art 25 of the Law on Press and Other Mass Media, complete or partial confiscation of a print-run can take place only on the basis of court decision.
On May 27 Leninski borough Administrative Commission of Brest found Mikalai Shekel guilty of distribution of leaflets of the people’s Coalition “Five Plus” – “Five Steps to Better Life”. The secretary of Brest organization of Communist Party received an official warning under Art 172 par 3 of the Code of Administrative Offences.
Since May 28 Svetach printing press canceled the contract with the Mestnaya Gazeta, independent newspaper from Vawkavysk. On May 26 the printing press was supposed to print the last issue of the newspaper. However, that day the Mestnaya Gazeta chief editor Andrei Shantarovich received a phone call from Siarhei Charhinets. The Svetach director of operations claimed he could not permit printing one of the articles and suggested it should be replaced by another one. He meant the article about corruption in Vawkavysk tax inspection. Shantarovich refused to replace the article. In an hour the director of operations called back with the news that the issue would not be printed at all.
May 31 the Supreme Court board for civic cases (judges Sakalowskaya, Samaluk, and Babkova) considered the protest of the Supreme Court deputy chair Vyshkevich. The board ruled to cut down the amount of compensation journalist Maryna Koktysh (Narodnaya Vola) and ex-TV host Eleanora Yazerskaya were to pay to Yahor Rybakow. Rybakow, former head of the Belarusian TV Company is now charged with abuse of power. The moral damages were cut down from 3 million to 1 million rubles for both Koktysh and Yazerskaya. The deputy head did not ask to decrease the amount of compensation from the editors of the Narodnaya Vola. The editors are to pay 50 million rubles (appr. USD 25 000), which put the newspaper on the verge of survival.
6. Disappearance of people in Belarus
On 7 May the action “We Remember”, devoted to the fifth anniversary of disappearance of Yury Zakharanka, took place in Minsk. Similar actions were held in many cities of Belarus. In some cities the action participants were detained by police.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have heard the report of Christos Pourgourides and approved recommendations of the Committee of Ministers about sanctions towards Belarus. The resolutions and recommendations, which demand to dismiss Belarusian Prosecutor General Viktar Sheiman, conduct independent investigation of the disappearances and trials over Belarusian officials involved, are submitted to the executive body of the Council of Europe.
On 19 May human rights activists held a roundtable on the topic “Resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights and PACE about human rights in Belarus – new tasks and possibilities”. The human rights activists are of the opinion, the next step could be instigating proceedings against the officials suspected in abduction of political opponents and possible executions without trials. At present the bringing such cases to the courts of European countries that have international jurisdiction is being discussed.
7. Brisk activity of special services
On May 3 “Zubr” activist Mikhail N. was detained by police in Asipovichy for posting fly-sheets with “Zubr” logo and contact phone number. Mikhail was taken to local military unit, where local KGB board was located. Here he had a talk with the guy who introduced himself as Ihar. The KGB agent suggested Mikhail should o get acquainted with as many Zubr activists as possible and pass him the obtained information.
On 7 May people who claimed they were KGB agents tried to break in to the private flat of Valery Levanewski, head of the unregistered strike committee of Belarusian businessmen. In the flat there were Levanewski’s children – Anton, 12, and Katsiaryna, 17, and his mother-in-law Halina. In some time the riot police in masks arrived, smashed the door, and entered the flat. Immediately they started the search, which lasted for 6 hours. KGB agents forced 17-year-old Katsiaryna Levanewskaya to testify against her father. After the search they took her to the Hrodna Regional KGB Board. All computers that were in the flat were confiscated. Levanewski’s elder son, 20-year-old Zmitser Levanewski, was taken to KGB as well. KGB also detained Alaksandr Vasilyew and searched his flat as well. They confiscated computers that belonged to his son and daughter and some documents.
On 11 May Hrodna KGB investigators searched the offices of three pro-democratic NGOs: Belarusian Language Society, Belarusian School Society, Lew Sapeha Foundation, and BPF party. They wanted to find the place where the fly-sheets with a verse which KGB found insulting for president, had been printed.
The KGB staffers carried away all four computers that belonged to the editorial board of the Den newspaper. They didn’t confiscate anything at the office of Belarusian School Society. At Lew Sapeha Foundation they confiscated computer equipment and the book “St. Luke’s Land” by Hrodna poet Ales Chobat.
On 18 May the strangers who introduced themselves as police officers searched the flat of the ex-head of the youth public association “Civil Forum” Ivan Niaveraw.
Ivan Niaveraw applied to the Board of the Internal Affairs of Homel Regional Executive Committee to find out whether the person whose name was on the search report really worked there. He was told that they had an employee with that name. Then he applied to Hrodna Chyhunachny Borough Prosecutor’s Office, but the prosecutor rejected his application.
On 19 May the police detained two “Zubr” activists in the town of Hlybokaye for posting fly-sheets with the logo of the organization. A man, who introduced himself as Ivan Henadzevich, asked them about the origin of the printed production and the plans of the movement. When the detainees refused to answer, he started to threaten them with 15 days of arrest.