REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS FOR NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2004
The organs of the state power of Belarus continued pressurization of the civil society. The pressurization of opposition parties by threats to liquidate their regional structures is especially noticeable.
There are facts of tortures and other ways of violent treatment towards participants of peaceful street actions. Prosecutor’s offices and other state organs don’t consider such facts according to the laws and refuse to bring criminal cases against the duty officials who take part in beating of demonstrators.
On 26 November Minsk Leninski Borough Prosecutor’s Office refused to bring a criminal case against the police concerning the beating of the leader of United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka and the journalists of the Russian TV channels NTV and Ren-TV at the peaceful demonstration of 19 October 2004. The prosecutor’s office “didn’t find the corpus delicti in the actions of the police” who dispersed the action of protest against the falsification of the election and the referendum.
1. Liquidation of political parties and pressurization of political activists
The Ministry of Justice prohibits placement of juridical addresses of political parties in private flats and houses if they have no separate entrance. The absolute majority of structures of democratic political parties and many NGOs have such juridical addresses. Now they have to look for other addresses, which is quite complicated. The demand of the Ministry of Justice touches about 90% of party structures. Representatives of democratic parties and NGOs are sure in political motivation of such action of the ministry.
On 3 November Belarusian People’s Front “Adradzhenne” received a letter from the Ministry of Justice, signed by the minister Uladzimir Halavanaw and dated 18 October 2004. Here the ministry states that it is illegal to have juridical address of political parties in private flats if the flats have no separate exit and therefore demands from the BPF to change the juridical addresses for a number of its units. Otherwise the ministry promises to “react in conformity with the legislation”, which can mean liquidation of the party.
The overwhelming majority of units of democratic political parties and NGOs are registered in flats. Now they have to look for other juridical addresses, which is quite complicated. This demand of the Ministry of Justice touches about 90% of party units and it is physically impossible to execute it till the stated deadline.
The head of the BPF Party Vintsuk Viachorka thinks that this demand is politically motivated. – It means that Lukashenka’s order “not to leave a stone standing”. It is an attempt to destroy political parties from below. However, we are not afraid of it. BPF existed in unregistered state and if it happens, we will follow the promptings of conscience. Two primary organizations of the BPF, of Leninski and Frunzenski boroughs of Minsk, have been already liquidated.
The prosecutor of Minsk Savetski Borough Prosecutor’s Office Mikalay Platnitski gave the official warning about “inadmissibility of libeling insinuations” to the head of the central committee of the Party of Communists of Belarus Siarhey Kaliakin.
Kaliakin thinks this warning concerns the publications of Polish mass media with reference to his name that appeared four days before the election in Belarus ended. Siarhey Kaliakin stated that the results of the referendum and the election were ordained.
The leader of United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka received a call-up to Minsk Tsentralny Borough Board of Internal Affairs to testify concerning the publication of the article about pre-electoral counsel at presidential administration before the parliamentary election in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
However, on 2 December Liabedzka refused to testify. To his mind, the prosecutors’ offices of Belarus are used as an instrument of political pressurization and therefore it is useless to cooperate with them. Earlier the prosecutor’s office refused to bring a case against the policemen who beat him on 19 October 2004, after the protest action against the falsification of the results of the election and referendum, despite the fact that he had two broken ribs, brain concussion and hematoma of kidney.
On 3 December the politician was summoned to Minsk City Prosecutor’s Office to testify concerning the press-conference that took place in the headquarters of United Civil Party several days before the election. At that press-conference leaders of parties described the possible mechanisms of falsification of the results of the voting.
The member of United Civil Party and active participant of the protest actions of 18-19 October Dzianis Artsiushkevich was fired from Minsk Transit Bank. He was detained on 19 October and sentenced to five days of jail. After he was released the administration of the bank made him write an application he wanted to retire on his own wish.
2. Pressurization of civil society by the authorities
The authorities pressurize workers of the Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies.
At night of 13 December three workers of KGB searched the flat of the vice-head of the Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies Aliaksandr Sasnow.
On 13 December the institute published the results of its poll that was conducted in November 2004. According to the poll only 49% of citizens voted for the changes of the Constitution at the referendum of 17 October 2004. At night KGB workers phoned carried out quick examination of the flat. They paid no interests to the institute affairs and searched for some tools of crime. They had no prosecutor’s sanction, only resolution of vice-head of KGB. They were in a great hurry and even had no blanks of search protocol, that’s why one of them wrote it on a blank sheet of paper.
Officially the searches stated they wanted to find something connected to the businessman A. Pankow who was charged with purposeful bankruptcy of the firm he headed. However, three years have passed since the businessman left the flat. That’s why they couldn’t find anything there and they didn’t find anything, which was witnessed in the protocol.
In its statement the direction of the institute points out that during the last months the institute has become an object for persecution for the official authorities. During September-November the institute received eight letters from the Ministry of Justice with different pretensions. Several days before the referendum the institute director Aleh Manayew was summoned to a talk with the justice minister Viktar Halavanaw. There he was given for familiarization the conclusion of the ministry for liquidation of the institute for “numerous violations” that was prepared for the Supreme Court. In the end of November he was also summoned to the prosecutor’s office for explanations concerning the polls that were conducted by the Baltic department of the institute during the election and the referendum. The direction of the institute considers the actions of the authorities as an attempt to pressurize the institute and intimidate its workers in order to prevent receiving of objective information by Belarusian citizens and international community.
In the evening of 5 November the police in plain clothes burst into the flat, rented by a leader of the youth “Zubr” movement Mikita Sasim. At about 7.30 they rang at the door. They didn’t show no documents and the people who were inside refused to let them in. Then the police broke the door, put the youth face to the walls, searched the flat and confiscated several thousand of copies of Christos Pourgourides’ report “Missing persons in Belarus” and a video camera that belonged to one of the youngsters. Mikita Sasim wasn’t present at the search – he was detained in the morning of 5 November in the city of Baranavichy and spent the whole day at the police.
3. Persecution of human rights activists
At night of 7-8 December the human rights activist and artist Mikola Aksamit was detained near the porch of his house in Vawkavysk with the picture he painted and which he was carrying to a friend as a gift. At first the police charged him with having stolen the picture. Then he was arrested for five days.
Before 5 November Mikola Aksamit hungered for two weeks to protest against the falsification of the results of the election and the referendum. On 5 November was taken to hospital due to problems with blood pressure and heart and had to stop the hunger strikeMr.
-- I think my hunger-strike was useful, -- he says. – There’s no other possibility to protest against all these violations, to put it mild. In fact, these are real crimes. Now all citizens of our town know about it and are indignant at it. I had no illusions when I started hungering and didn’t think the authorities would punish the people who made it. They won’t judge themselves.
On 11 November Minsk Maskowski Borough administrative commission fined the vice-head of Belarusian Helsinki Committee Hary Pahaniayla. The human rights activist was sentenced to five minimal wages (120 000 roubles) fine for distribution of the report “Missing People in Belarus”, prepared by Christos Pourgourides during the action of 16 September that was devoted to the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of the opposition activists Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasowski.
On 30 November a criminal case for alleged slander of president of Belarus was brought against Hary Pahaniayla. The reason for the case was the interview he gave to Swedish TV4 on 18 August. The customs officers confiscated the video recording of the interview from the journalist who took it and was going to Sweden. In his interview H. Pahaniayla spoke about the kidnaps of political opponents of Lukashenka and called the surnames of the high-level duty officials who could have relation to this. In the case Pahaniayla is found guilty in slander of president, he can be punished by up to five years of personal restraint or jail.
4. Administrative punishment for participation in peaceful street actions
On 1 November Hrodna Leninski Borough Court sentenced Pavel Mazheyka, head of Hrodna branch of Belarusian Association of Journalists, journalist of the banned Pahonia newspaper to seven days of jail.
Hrodna Leninski Borough Court found Mazheyka guilty in violation of part 1 of article #167-1 of the Code of Administrative Violations (violation of the order of organization or holding of assemblies, meetings, street processions, pickets, etc.). The journalist went on the hunger-strike of protest. He spent his arrest in the isolator of Hrodna Leninski Borough Board of Internal Affairs.
The trial of Mazheyka started at 3 p.m. on 27 October. 2,5 hours before he was detained by the police in the center of Hrodna. The reason for the detention was the picket of Mazheyka and four other journalists who protested against the accusative verdict to the editor of the Birzha Informacii newspaper Alena Rawbetskaya, who was charged with defamation of president. The journalists held in their hands the sheets of paper with the words “Journalists Are Tried in Hrodna!!!”. On 22 October the police inspector Piatro Lenets phoned to P. Mazheyka and invited him to the police for “explanatory talk” concerning the picket. However, the journalist stated he would react only to official papers.
On 3 November the judge of Hrodna Leninski Borough Court Viktoryia Kulakowskaya ruled to exact 20 basic values ($553) from Natallia Makushyna and the same sum from her husband Anatol Makushyn for violation of part 1 of article #167-1 of the Code of Administrative Violations.
On 4 November Svislach Town Court exacted from the head of a regional organization of Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada Viktar Sazonaw and the head of a regional organization of Belarusian People’s Front Siarhey Malchyk 70 basic units fine. Both of them were detained during the commemoration of the national heroes of Belarus Viktar and Kanstantsin Kalinowskis (Viktar Kalinowski is buried at the cemetery of Svislach and in the center of the town there’s a monument to Kanstantsin Kalinowski).
On 7 December the police detained in Minsk the members of “Zubr” movement Andrey Baranaw and Maksim Viniarski for distribution of the newspaper with the urges to come to the action, devoted to the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December. The night after the detention the youngsters spent in Akrestsin Street in Minsk. On 8 December Minsk Frunzenski Borough Court decided to postpone the trial of Andrey Baranaw to 10 December and the trial of Maksim Vianiarski – to 17 December. On 10 December Minsk Frunzenski Borough Court fined Andrey Baranaw 150 basic values.
5. Problem of disappearances of public activists in Belarus
On 10 December Volha Zavadskaya filed a complaint to the new Prosecutor General P. Miklashevich against the refusal of the National Prosecutor’s Office to renew the investigation of the case.
The complain reads: “On 3 August 2004 I, Volha Zavadskaya, whose son, ORT cameraman Zmitser Zavadski was kidnapped in July 2000, filed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus the demand to renew the investigation of the case, brought on disappearance of my son in connection with new circumstances and interrogate A. Lukashenka as a witness. The reason was that 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”.” In connection with such sayings by A.G. Lukashenka I have the reasons to think that the organs that investigated the criminal case haven’t investigated it completely and interrogated all witnesses. This statement allows consider that A.G. Lukashenko is a witness on this case, because he said he has factual information and documents related to this criminal case. (…) At the same time, according to part 2 of article #420 of the Criminal Process Code of the Republic of Belarus the reasons for renewal of investigation due to new circumstances could be statements of duty officials. A.G. Lukashenka is one of the high-level duty officials of the Republic of Belarus. The statement he made on20 July 2004, during a press conference, allow assuming that A.G. Lukashenko has information and documents on the case that haven’t been demanded and studied by the organs that conducted the preliminary investigation of the case about the kidnap of my son Dmitry Zavadskiy and the court. Being guided by the abovementioned and part 5 of article 420 of the Criminal Process Code I ask to conduct prosecutor’s check-up of these facts and, in the case there are reasons for it, renew the case due to new circumstances.
6. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 23 December Minsk District Court and Zaslawye Town Court will start the trial of the public activist, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus, ex-minister of external economic relations of the Republic of Belarus, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the 12th Convocation. In 2001 Mikhail Marynich ran for presidency.
Since 26 April 2004 Marynich has been kept in the investigative isolator of KGB. He doesn’t take the blame and says his case is politically motivated. On 5 November Marynich received the final accusation: he is charged with illegal storage of arms, theft of property and secret documents and non-returning of a seal.
7. Interference of the authorities with the activity of mass media and realization of liberty of expression
In the evening of 5 November representatives of the Russian bureau of the French TV channel TF1 were detained while trying to film ZUBR members who were hanging out a large banner “Lukashenka lost” on a bridge.
On 19 November Baranavichy City Prosecutor’s Office warned the former candidate to the Parliament Arkadz Blinkowski. The reason for the warning was the article “Candidate Comments”, published on the end of the election by the non-state newspaper “Intex-press” (#43 of 21 October 2004). The article stated the results of the election to the Parliament were falsified.
On 26 November Vawkavysk District Court fined the chief editor of Mestnaya Gazeta newspaper 50 basic values (1 200 000 Belarusian rubles). Judge Yury Yakimovich considered the hunger-strike of the defendant as unauthorized picket.
The head of Vawkavysk District Board of Internal Affairs Aliaksandr Hlebaw who on 17 November had composed the protocol of violation of part 1 of article 167 of the Code of Administrative Violations. At the trial he defended his position by the fact that posters with information about the hunger-strike were hanged all over the town and even in the window of the editorial office of Mestnaya Gazeta. To his mind, it gave publicity to the fact of the hunger-strike and turned it into unauthorized picket.
We should remind that on 20 October Andrey Shantarovich went on the hunger-strike of protest against the decision of the Ministry of Information to suspend the issue of his newspaper and kept hungering for 21 day in the building of the office of correspondent of Mestnaya Gazeta in Vawkavysk.
On 1 November Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) filed an open letter to the information minister Uladzimir Rusakevich with the request to recall the order concerning the suspension of the private Mestnaya Gazeta newspaper, the chief editor of which was hungering for 13 days by that time. The organization urged the minister to meet with the BAJ leaders and editors of non-state press for discussion of the situation of mass media. According to BAJ, since the beginning of 2004 the Ministry of Information has already suspended the issue of 19 non-state newspapers. The ministry answered that “in the nearest future the officials of the Ministry of Information don’t intend to meet with chief editors of non-state editions”.
On 8 November the Ministry of Information warned the founder of Kuryer z Barysava newspaper, Press-service enterprise, about violation of the law “On press and other mass media”. According to the ministry, the newspaper violated the law by haven’t timely informed it about the change from referential and promotion topics to mass-politic ones.
Iryna Makavetskaya is the correspondent of Narodnaya Volia newspaper in Homel region. At 10 a.m. on 2 December at Homel Chyhunachny Borough Court there started the open trial about which the journalist wanted to report. In the very beginning of the trial the head of the court Tatsiana Ardynets ordered Makavetskaya to leave the court hall. The journalist refused to do it saying she would obey only to lawful demands of the court. As a result, Ardynets had to call the police, who detained Makavetskaya, took her to Homel Chyhunachny Borough Board of Internal Affairs and composed a protocol of violation of article 166 of the Code of Administrative Violations. This article provides fine or up to 15 days of jail as punishment.
On 7 December the journalist Iryna Khalip was summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus. The prosecutors Stanislaw Novikaw and Sviataslaw Holik paid interest to the article “Drunk Executioners” in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. In this article it was mentioned that Belarus is the only European country with death penalty.
Iryna Khalip also described the details of the fusillades in Minsk and the visit of the head of the brigade of special police forces Zmitser Pawlichenka to the investigative isolator where death sentences were executed. The prosecutor’s tried to find out what was the source for the factual materials of the article and took official explanations from the journalists about it. Iryna Khalip referred to article #34 of the Law “On press” and refused to call the sources.
7. Violation of the freedom of conscience
Aliaksandr Karzow, one of the members of the Krishnait society, was accused in the fact that unauthorized liturgies were held in a private house. The Krishna believers think that this trial puts beginning to the liquidation of their organization. For two days judge Aliaksey Bychko considered the administrative protocol that was composed by the police inspector of Tsentralny borough of Minsk Ihar Nestsiarovich. In this report the policeman stated he “saw several people sing songs and play religious instruments” (?). Finally, the judge decided to issue a warning. The believer Siarhey Malakhowski thinks that the warning is only the beginning of the process: “We understand that they want to wipe us out of the territory of Belarus as a new religious movement so that there are no rivals to the main religion, which is given “green light”. It is all made to the good of the monopoly of the Orthodox church, which has the monopoly on representation of God in Belarus – the country where the Orthodoxy has won”. Members of the International Society of Krishna Conscience said to RFE/RL they would complain to the UN Committee on Human Rights.
8. Activation of secret services
On 1 November two KGB workers came to the detention center where the leader of the Young Front Pavel Seviarynets was kept under arrest for participation in the protest action of 19 October. They asked Seviarynets about the street actions of 18 and 19 October.
The head of a regional bureau of Fridrich Ebert Fund Helmut Kurt came to Minsk to participate in the international forum “Belarus between the influence of Russia and attraction of Europe”. Belarusian authorities declared him persona non grata.
The head of the regional bureau of Fridrich Ebert Fund Helnut Kurt wasn’t let into Belarus.
On 4 November Helmut Kurt arrived at the airport “Minsk-1” from Kyiv. Belarusian border guards didn’t let him out despite the fact that he had non-expendable visa. They didn’t explain the reasons. As a result of his protests they took him to the airport “Minsk-2”. Mr. Kurt had to spend the night at temporary isolation center. Representatives of German Embassy in Minsk passed to him food and water.
The Ambassador of Germany in Minsk Martin Hecker directed a letter of protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and informed German authorities about this incident.
On 14 December KGB warned Zmitser Barodka. He received a call-up to KGB and had to go there. The KGB worker Dzianis Yakubowski explained that Barodka’s activity since the beginning of 2002 could be considered as violation of article 342 of the Criminal Code (something like organization and active participation in street disorders). He mentioned all detentions of Barodka since 2002 and the latest detention, on 20 October, after the so called referendum.