REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS FOR OCTOBER 2004
The Parliamentary election and the national referendum in Belarus were conducted with numerous violations of the national electoral legislation and international standards. The falsifications and manipulations committed during the electoral campaign resulted in the wave of fair protest of the country’s citizens. That’s why the authoritarian regime in Belarus started an unheard assault on human rights and liberties.
More than sixty persons were detained for participation in the peaceful protest actions of 18-20 October. 37 of them were sentenced to 3-15 days of jail, seven fined huge sums. Some of the participants of the action (including minor girls) were severely beaten by the police. The leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka was hospitalized, as well as a female activist of youth democratic movement, who was unconscious.
The Main Board of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee initiated a criminal case against the activists of oppositional parties Maryna Bahdanovich, Aliaksandr Tsynkevich and the human rights activist Aleh Volchak for organization of the protest actions in Minsk. All of the accused took part in the election as candidates to the Parliament.
Such fundamental civil rights and liberties as the liberty of expression, the liberty of speech, the freedom of assembly and association are violated more and more often. There has been established a strict system of censorship and opposition-minded citizens are harassed.
Human Rights Center “Viasna” considers the situation in the country as a new wave of political repression aimed at complete suppression of civil rights and liberties and establishment of dictatorial regime.
1. Liquidation of political parties and pressurization of political activists
The Ministry of Justice rejected the complaint of the United Civil Party concerning the liquidation of its Vasniatsowskaya primary organization in Minsk Zavadski Borough. The party authorities believe its liquidation on 10 September 2004 was lawless, because, according to UCP, the decision to liquidate the organization was taken on 10 September 2004 and the check-up was conducted only in the evening of that day, though check-up must precede the liquidation.
As a result of these actions the pretender to candidates in Vasniatsowskaya electoral circuit, former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlowski wasn’t registered. The complaint against these actions was filed to the Ministry of Justice, which refused to consider it due to the fact that the flat of the party member, where the primary organization was registered, had no separate entrance.
2. Persecution of human rights activists
On 6 October Tatsiana Reviaka was fined five basic values (95 thousand rubles) for distribution of printed production without issue data by Minsk Pershamayski borough administrative commission
We should remind that on 16 September, the fifth anniversary of the forced disappearance of the vice-speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation Viktar Hanchar and the head of the “KrasiCo” firm Anatol Krasowski the police detained the human rights activists Tatsiana Reviaka (Human Rights Center “Viasna”) and Hary Pahaniayla (Belarusian Helsinki Committee).
The human rights activists were detained during the action, the aim of which was to demand objective investigation into the circumstances of forced kidnaps.
Viktar Hanchar’s wife Zinaida Hanchar and the human rights activists came to the prosecutor’s office at 8.30 p.m. (workers of the office usually come there at that time). Tatsiana Reviaka handed out to the workers of the prosecutor’s office the book “Belarus. Undisclosed Crimes of Newest History” which contains the report of the special reporter of PACE political committee Christos Pourgourides “On the missing persons in Belarus” with evidence of relation of the highest-level officials, including the prosecutor general Viktar Sheyman to the crimes. In 20 minutes Tatsiana Reviaka and Hary Pahaniayla were detained by special police forces and taken to Minsk Tsentralny Borough Board of Internal Affairs.
The committee on legal affairs and human rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the PACE secretary general Terry Davis sharply criticized Belarusian authorities over the detention of Tatsiana Reviaka and Hary Pahaniayla on 16 October for distribution of the PACE report about the missing persons. According to him, the arrests of the human rights activists violate the freedom of expression and distribution of information in Belarus. “Such actions can lead only to further isolation of the country from European and world community”, -- stated the secretary general.
On 13 October 2004 Homel Zhaleznadarozhny Borough Administrative Commission warned the member of Belarusian Helsinki Committee Ales Yawseyenka. On 6 October his car with a circulation of the informational bulletin that was devoted to the upcoming referendum was stopped by the road police. The police confiscated all the bulletins and charged Yawseyenka with distribution of the information that was harmful to the state order of the Republic of Belarus.
3. Administrative punishment for participation in peaceful street actions
On 8 October the activist of the “Zubr” movement Aliaksandr Kazakow was detained for distribution of the book “Occasional President” in the building of Barysaw City Executive Committee. He had to spend the night between 8 and 9 October at the preliminary detention cell of Barysaw City Board of Internal Affairs. On 11 October he was sentenced to 10 days of jail upon Article 156 of the Code of Administrative Violations “disorderly conduct”.
On 19 October another action of protest was held in Kastrychnitskaya Square of Minsk. The police treated its participants with yet more violence. More than 50 persons were arrested, including minors. Several dozens of people were beaten, including journalists and leaders of parties. The head of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka received hard craniocerebral injuries and was hospitalized. “Special police forces beat me unconscious”, -- he said after. Workers of the Russian NTV channel tried to film this incident. As a result, the police smashed an expensive camera and beat the correspondent Viktor Kuzmin and the cameraman Konstantin Morozov (by the way, a day before the referendum unknown persons beat the journalist of the Russian ORT TV channel Pavel Sheremet, after which he was arrested and charged with hooligan assault on them). Among the beaten were journalists of RenTV and Associated Press. The police also tried to arrest journalists of Poland and the Czech Republic. 37 detainees were sentenced to 3-15 days of jail, seven fined huge sums.
On 21 October the coordinator of the “Zubr” movement in Mahiliow region Aleh Miatselitsa was sentenced to 7 days of administrative arrest. The police detained him at about 12 a.m. They refused to explain why.
4. Disappearances of public activists in the Republic of Belarus
In August 2004 Volha Zavadskaya, mother of the ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski who disappeared in July 2000, filed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus demand to renew the investigation of the case, brought on disappearance of her son in connection with new circumstances and interrogate A. Lukashenka as a witness.
At the press conference of 20 July 2004 President of the Republic of Belarus A.G. Lukashenko made a statement concerning the criminal cases, brought on the facts of disappearances of citizens of the Republic of Belarus: “What surprises me: if the relatives worry so much, why don’t you come to me. One person came to me, woman, you know the reason why I can’t call her surname. She came to me, I accepted her. She asked me about one man, I again don’t call his surname. I was impressed by this woman. She’s brave. I spoke with her for three hours and showed to her certain documents. If I gave publicity to them now, Zavadskiy’s case would turn into “anti-case”. By the way, it’s my only pain – Dima Zavadskiy. I am also very interested to find about the fate of this man.” From the Prosecutor’s office Volha Zavadskaya received the information that there wouldn’t be any answer because Prosecutor General Viktar Sheyman took the application it and gave no orders to the workers of the office concerning it.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 26 October the head of the nationwide strike committee, entrepreneur Valery Levanewski was taken to colony #22 in the settlement of Damanava in Ivatsevichy district of Brest region and the vice-head of the committee Aliaksandr Vasilyew was sent to colony #8 of the town of Orsha in Vitsebsk region. There they will spend their terms for alleged violation of part 2 of article 368 of the Criminal Code – insult to president.
On 7 September 2004 the head of the republican strike committee of entrepreneurs Valery Levanewski and his substitute Aliaksandr Vasilyew were sentenced to two years of penal colony for insult to president Aliaksandr Lukashenka, accompanied by charges in felony (part 2 of article 368 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus “Public insult to president of the Republic of Belarus”). Aliaksandr Vasilyew was also judged for the organization of the protest action of entrepreneurs on 1 May. In the verdict it was said that the phrase “Come and say you are against someone going to Austria for a rest and skiing at your expense” that stood in the fly-sheet was insulting to the honor and dignity of president of the Republic of Belarus.
The main board of internal affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee brought a criminal case concerning the actions that took place on 18-21 October in Minsk. According to the head of the information board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Henadz Klepcha the case was brought upon the article that provided punishment for “organization or active participation in the group actions that violated the public order”.
6. Interference of the authorities with the activity of mass media and the liberty of speech
On 6 September of the Ministry of information suspended the non-state “Nedelya” newspaper for three months. The editorial staff of the independent newspaper “Nedelya” managed to issue only one number before the suspension order signed by information minister Uladzimir Rusakevich on 4 October. However, according to the information that was given to RFE/RL by the registration department of the legal board of the ministry the order was registered on 5 October. On the other hand, the vice-head of the private Unitarian enterprise editorial house “Niamiha” that issues “Nedelya” pointed out he had no information about pretensions to the newspaper. Recently the newspaper has been checked up by the tax inspection, but the talk of the inspectors with the newspaper administration has been postponed. The newspaper had to be printed in the Russian city of Smolensk, because all Belarusian printing houses refused from its printing and “Belsayuzdruk” and “Belposhta” state distribution nets refused to conclude agreements for distribution.
According to Tsynkevich, there are no other reasons to persecute the edition but political ones:
-- The regime does so not because of its force, but due to its weakness. The authorities feel unconfident and close the press in order to block sources of public information.
On 1 October the issue of the “Rehiyanalnyia Vedamastsi” weekly was suspended for three months. This independent newspaper is issued in the town of Horki of Mahiliow region and has a circulation of 4 000 copies. The Ministry of Information has a number of pretensions to the newspaper. According to the ministry, the present topics, the territory of distribution, the frequency and the language of the “Rehiyanalnyia Vedamastsi” don’t correspond to the information that was presented for the registration of the newspaper.
The democratic community of Horki considers the reasons for the suspension as formal ones and speaks of political motivation, because “Rehiyanalnyia Vedamastsi” express the point of view on the political situation in the country (referendum, for instance) that differs from the official one.
On 15 October the Ministry of Information suspended for one months the issue of the newspaper “Mestanaya Gazeta”. The authorities accuse the editors of a number of violations of the Law on press and other mass media. Andrey Shantarovich, chief editor of the newspaper, thinks the edition has been suspended because of the referendum and election. He promises, soon the readers will get the newspaper under another title.
In the suspension order information minister Uladzimir Rusakevich blames the newspaper for spreading untrue information about suspension of “Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni”.
“Mestnaya Gazeta” wrote that the Ministry’s decision to suspend “Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni” was illegal.
On 14 October Belarusian printing house refused to print a number of the “Tovarishch”, edition of the Central Committee of the Party of Communists of Belarus. At first the administration of the printing house said that there were not enough “technical possibilities” to print the issue and than informed that the management of the newspaper should have forwarded the request to publish the newspaper with bigger circulation in advance.
On 13 October 13 the editorial board ordered a 30 000 circulation of the newspaper instead of usual 7 000. 23 000 were planned to be freely distributed. On 13 October the printing house accepted this order without any questions, but in the morning of 14 October the senior editor of “Tovarishch” Siarhey Vazniak was told that when ordering a bigger circulation a special request form should be submitted.
This number of the newspaper contained the text of “bee-line” of a candidate to deputies, the leader of PCB Siarhey Kaliakin with the readers concerning the referendum. The main slogan of the issue was “For Belarus and against Lukashenka!”
On 14 October in Baranavichy there were detained TV journalists of Polish informational group of the first TV channel. The reporters came to Belarus in order to cover the events connected to the elections and the referendum. In the night at the Belarusian-Polish border they were met by the consul. They were on their way to Minsk to get the accreditation for which they sent documents to the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in advance. But on their way they decided to stop in Baranavichy. They met a UCP candidate to the parliament – Siarhey Andrushchanka as well as some members of Human Rights Center “Viasna” and some other local democratic activists there.
After the meeting the journalists together with the head of Baranavichy “Viasna” branch Siarhey Howsha went outside the office to make some photos. In the street they were met by three policemen (one of them was a colonel). They demanded accreditation. The journalists started to explain that they are on their way to Miensk to get it but they were not heard but were detained and taken to a police station. There they were checked by the police and KGB workers and then let go.
7. Tortures and inhumane treatment
The special police forces violently beat the participants of the actions that were held on 19-21 October in Kastrychnitskaya Square. They beat several people, including journalists and leaders of parties. The head of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka was taken to hospital with broken ribs, cranial trauma and kidney haematoma. Liabedzka was seized on the stairs of the “Patio-Pizza” café, opposite the Central supermarket. They pulled him into the café and couldn’t manage with him for a long time (they put hand-cuffs on one hand only). They threw Liabedzka on the floor and all of them started kicking him with their feet. From time to time they put him up by hair and hit in the face and in the head. Then some seven or eight policemen with the commandant of Minsk special police forces Padabed at the head came. They twisted my arms, and took me up, so that my feet didn’t reach the ground, and Padabed hit me in the face for six or seven times with his palm. Then Liabedzka lost consciousness and resuscitated only in the police car.
Zmitser Chartkow was detained at the protest action of 19 October. He was beaten during the detention and as a result taken to the neurosurgical department of Minsk regional clinical hospital. The doctors diagnosed injury of soft tissue of the head and limbs.
The journalist of RFE/RL Yury Svirko applied to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus Viktar Sheyman concerning the beating of journalists by the police during the dispersal of the peaceful protest action of 19 October:
“… The cameramen of the Russian TV channels NTV and Ren-TV Konstantin Morozov and Vladimir Kostin were beaten by the police while trying to film the violent detention of the UCP leader Anatol Liabedzka. Their cameras were smashed. The photo correspondent of the “Associated Press” agency Siarhey Hryts was illegally detained. The author of this application was hit by a worker of presidential security…”. Svirko demands to bring a criminal case upon the article “illegal counteraction to work of journalist”.
On 14 October Minsk City Prosecutor’s Office refused to bring a criminal case against anti-Semitic publishers. The Union of Belarusian Jewish Associations applied to the prosecutor’s office in March 2004 with the request to initiate a criminal case against the “Pravoslavnaya Iniciativa” for distribution of the information that fomented religious and national enmity and was also aimed at humiliation of the honor and dignity of the Jewish people. The Union tried to turn the attention to the book “War on Rules of Villainy” that was published by “Pravoslavnaya Iniciativa”. The head of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Associations Yakaw Basin called the refusal biased and said that it failed to reflect the real situation with anti-Semitism in the country. The union authorities are going to complain against this decision to the supreme instances.
8. Unauthorized searches
Three policemen came to the flat where the electoral headquarters was situated. They introduced themselves as workers of housing committee, saying that a water-pipe broke in the flat and all there was a flood in the porch. When the door was opened, they burst in and demanded to give to them the printed production of the candidates. When the people present refused to do so, they made a telephone call and six more policemen with rifles came for the confiscation. There were no juridical grounds for it, but the candidates had difficulties even in receiving an act of confiscation of these legally produced agitation materials.
Policemen from Minsk Frunzenski Borough Board of Internal Affairs searched the pre-electoral headquarters of the candidate from the United Civil Party in election circuit #103 Ivan Antashkevich. After a talk with the police major who introduced himself as vice-head of Minsk Frunzenski BBIA Shcherba the people who were present in the flat let the police in. The policemen searched the flat but didn’t confiscate anything. They also checked the agreement for the rent of the flat and the documents of all present persons, including the UCP head Anatol Liabedzka and a BDIHR/OSCE observer. They didn’t present any documents that authorized the search that was finished at about 10 p.m.
9. Intimidation of public activists
On 17 October the head of the special projects of the ORT channel Pavel Sheremet was taken to hospital under the suspicion of having cranial trauma. He was beaten in Minsk by two youngsters in plain clothes. The journalist Svetlana Kalinkina who was with Sheremet at that time called for the police, who detained the assaulters. However, soon Sheremet was detained for “hooligan assault on two people”. According to the minister of internal affairs Uladzimir Navumaw Sheremet had a fight with a group of skinheads. Kalinkina and Sheremet are the authors of the book “Occasional president”.