REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS IN JANUARY 2005
Human Rights Center “Viasna” states that in January 2005 new dangerous tendencies started to manifest in Belarus. In January the new edition of the law “About the internal levy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus” came into force. This edition contains certain amendments that rudely violate the right to life. According to the new norms, the internal levy can use their equipment and arms on presidential order. The phrase “and in other cases, defined by President of the Republic of Belarus” stands after every article where the cases in which the equipment and the weapons could be used. The previous edition of the law strictly limited the use of the equipment. The new edition doesn’t explain how the president will define “other cases” and give orders about the use of the equipment. This edition of the law is evidently directed against participants of opposition actions.
The regime does everything possible to control all the spheres of public and political life. The legal existence of oppositional political parties is now in danger. The pressurization of NGOs and independent mass media continues. Lukashenka’s authorities try to restore the total control and censorship that were a part of the soviet society for many years.
Liquidation of political parties and pressurization of political activists
The Ministry of Justice sent letters to political parties with the order to move the offices of their structural units to non-residential buildings by 1 February 2005. The head of the BPF Party Vintsuk Viachorka is sure it is made for destroying the primary units of the parties with the aim to deprive the parties of juridical status in certain cities and regions and then in the whole country. As a result of liquidation of the juridical addresses of the local units they won’t be able to participate in electoral campaigns, nominate candidates, monitor elections and legally agitate.
Hrodna Leninski Borough Prosecutor’s Office warned the head of Minsk regional organization of United Civil Party (UCP) Maryna Bahdanovich for her electoral speech on the radio. In her speech Bahdanovich stated that Lukashenka may have relation to arms trade. Minsk Prosecutor’s Office also conducts similar check-ups concerning the speeches of Aleh Volchak and Aliaksandr Tsynkevich who ran for the Parliament at the last election.
Pressurization of civil society structures by the authorities
As a result of the check-up of Belarusian Union of Youth and Children’s Public Associations “Rada” Minsk Tsentralny Borough Tax Inspection ruled to exact from the organization 125 million rubles. The workers of the tax inspection concluded that in 2002 and 2003 the organization groundlessly didn’t pay taxes from the international aid, received from the European Commission upon TACIS program and from the UNO upon UNICEF program. Last year tax inspections gave similar accusations to the public associations Belarusian Helsinki Committee and “Will for Development”.
Persecution of human rights activists
The Ministry of Justice gave a warning to the Board of Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) as a result of the check-up of the activity of its regional structures. The justice board of Homel Regional Executive Committee stated that some persons became members of the organization and were excluded from it with violations of the Statute and that Homel branch of BHC directed persons who weren’t its members to monitor the Parliamentary election, which is a violation of article #13 of the Election Code. Besides, the Ministry of Justice is of the opinion that since 1 November 2003 Brest regional branch of BHC actually has had no juridical address.
Punishment for participation in peaceful street actions
On 12 January in Mahiliow the activist of the ZUBR movement Maksim Dvaretski was sentenced to three days of jail for the graffiti “Set Marynich Free!”.
The activist of Mahiliow ZUBR branch, welder of Mahiliow House-building Combine Pavel Uhrynovich was fired for participation in an action in support of Mikhail Marynich in Minsk. Despite the fact that before going to Minsk Uhrynovich applied for taking a vacation for his own expense, the combine director Zubaraw accused the worker in truancy and fired him without hiding the political motives.
On 23 January in Homel the police detained several persons for handing out orange fly-sheets devoted to Viktor Yushchenko’s victory at the presidential election in the Ukraine. Among the detainees:
The police composed upon all of them reports for activity on behalf of unregistered organization and distribution of printed production, aimed at doing harm to the public order.
The problem of disappearance of public activists in Belarus
On 17 January the human rights activist Aleh Volchak passed to Minsk Prosecutor’s Office some documents related to the circumstances of the disappearance of the former minister of internal affairs of Belarus Yury Zakharanka in 1999. According to Volchak, he received the documents from the former workers of the prosecutor’s office Zmitser Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak, who in 2001 received political asylum in the US. The documents are related to the history of the establishment of the “death squadrons”, their staff and administration, the details of the kidnap of Yury Zakharanka and the place of his burial. Besides, there’s the list of 30 persons who, according to Petrushkevich and Sluchak, knew about the existence of the “death squadrons”.
Politically motivated criminal cases
The consideration of the cassation complaint against the verdict to Mikhail Marynich will take place at 10 a.m. on 18 February at Minsk Regional Court. On 30 December 2004 Minsk District Court sentenced Mikhail Marynich, former minister of the internal economic relations of Belarus, former Ambassador of Belarus in Latvia, Estonia and Finland, deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the 12th Convocation, leader of Belarusian association “Business Initiative” to five years of jail with confiscation of property.
Marynich was arrested on 26 April 2004 and charged upon two articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus: part 2 of article #295 (illegal actions with fire arms, armament and explosives” and part 2 of article #210 (theft by abuse of the office powers). M. Marynich was found guilty only on one point – embezzlement of the organization equipment, given for free-charge temporary use to the public organization Belarusian association “Business Initiative”. The verdict was issued despite the letter of the US Ambassador in Belarus George Krol where it was stated that the US State Department had no pretensions to M. Marynich.
In the night of 8 January the police detained the activist of “Zubr” youth movement Mikita Sasim on the suspicion that he had written “Set Marynich Free!” on several buildings in the center of Minsk. The case is investigated by Minsk Leninski Borough Board of Internal Affairs.
After the detention Sasim was detained in isolator for 3 days and on 10 December released under the written recognizance not to leave the city. The criminal case upon part 1 of article #218 of the Criminal Code (deliberate destruction or damage of property) was brought against him. If found guilty, Mikita Sasim can be fined, sentenced to up to two years of personal restraint or up to three months of arrest.
Interference of the authorities with the activity of mass media and the liberty of word
Chief editor of the non-state weekly Borisovskiye Novosti Anatol Bukas is charged upon two articles of the Criminal Code – part 2 of article #188 of the Criminal Code (libel in public speech or mass media) and part 2 of article #189 of the Criminal Code (deliberate disparagement in obscene form). The reason for the criminal case against A. Bukas was the newspaper article that was devoted to the chief editor of the newspaper of Barysaw City Executive Committee Yedinstvo Vera Pratasevich. Anatol Bukas is sure that the case was brought on the initiative of the executive committee with the aim to liquidate concurrence to its newspaper. In the case Bukas is found guilty, he can be sentenced to up to two years of jail or up to three years of personal restraint.
The programs of the “Euronews” TV channel were removed from the ether of the Belarusian TV channel “Lad” where they used to run at 6.30 -- 8.00 throughout 2004. The administration of the National State TV and Radio Company explains the refusal to show international news with financial reasons.
On 4 January judge of Minsk Tsentralny Borough Court Valery Yesman ruled to exact 30 million rubles from the editorial office of Pressbol newspaper and 10 million rubles from its chief editor Uladzimir Berazhkow as compensation of the harm done to the minister of finances of the Republic of Belarus, head of Belarus Gymnastics Association Mikalay Korbut. The reason for the suit, filed by the minister, was the publication “Man Wanted by Interpol for Participation in Gang Is Substitute of Minister of Finances” in #128, 28 October 2004.
On 5 January 2005 the activist of United Civil Party Artur Tsurpakow was detained in Homel for distribution of Vremya newspaper. The detainee was taken to Homel Navabelitski Borough Board of Internal Affairs where the police drew a detention report, took his fingerprints, made photographs and confiscated the newspapers.
On 15 January Homel Tsentralny Borough Court ruled to make oral admonition to the correspondent of Narodnaya Volia newspaper in Homel regional Iryna Makavetskaya for alleged violation of article #166 of the Code of Administrative Violations – disrespect to the court. The incident that was the subject of the trial took place on 2 December at Homel Zhaleznadarozhny Borough Court where the judge Tatsiana Adrybets considered the administrative case for business activity without license against Yuliya Marchanka, daughter of a well-known Homel businesswoman and activist of Free Trade Union of Belarus Tatsiana Marchanka. The judge demanded from the journalist to leave the court hall, whereas I. Makavetskaya refused to do it saying she would obey only to legal demands of the court because the trial was open. After this she was detained by the police.
On 25 January Minsk Leninski Borough Prosecutor’s Office charged the journalist of the non-state Belorusskaya Gazeta” Kiryl Zhyvalovich upon part 2 of article #363 of the Criminal Code (“Resistance to a policemen or other persons that secures the public order”). In his interview to BelaPAN K. Zhyvalovich explained that the conflict with the private guards of “Belpost” enterprise happened when he collected information about the work of private guards.
8. Enforcement of the ideological pressurization and the revival of the censorship
Rehina Ventsel, provost on the educational work of Baranavichy State University and the vice-provost Ivan Kitsun were fired for a joke of students concerning Lukashenka, played onstage during a game of the “Club of the Jolly and the Cute”.
On 18 January the painting “Portrait of Vasil Bykaw” (famous Belarusian writer) by the artist Ales Pushkin was removed from the art exhibition “Long Road Home”. The painters who took part in the exhibition took their paintings away to express their solidarity with Pushkin and the exhibition had to be closed. The director of the contemporary art center said that she received a special order from Vitsebsk Regional Executive Committee to remove the painting.
9. Non-admission of foreign journalists and public activists to the country
Belarusian Consulate in Bialystok refused to issue visa to the chief editor of the weekly of Belarusians in Poland Niva and the head of Belarusian Union in Poland Eugeniusz Wappa and the TV journalist Jerzy Kalina (whose films about Belarus won prestigious awards at European festivals) without any comments.
10. Violation of the liberty of conscience
On 23 January representatives of the administration and the police of Maskowski borough of Minsk demanded from the congregation of the “New Life” protestant church to stop liturgies in the building of former cowshed. In December 2004 the head of Minsk City Executive Committee Mikhail Pawlaw refused to re-register the community.