Review of human rights violations in Belarus, February-March 2005
Persecution of regime opponents and pressure on the independent press continue. The state encroaches on all spheres of public life.
Politically-motivated criminal persecution has gained momentum, new criminal cases against the opposition activists have been initiated. The situation with the freedom of association in Belarus has not improved, the legal climate remains hostile to the creation and activity of independent associations of citizens. The bill On republican state and public associations drafted by the Government by order of A.Lukashenko has been brought before the Chamber of Representatives in spring. The project provides for creation of pro-governmental structures to controlled and financed by the government. All of these actions undertaken by the authorities still further reinforce the regime that is trying to totally control the country. In February and March all of the major cities in the country have seen protest actions staged by businessmen.
1. Freedom of Association Restricted
On 8 February the Supreme Court, acting at the suit filed by the Ministry of Justice liquidated the Public Association "Belarusian Women's Movement "Revival of Homeland".
On 10 February the Supreme Court of Belarus upheld the official warning issued by the Ministry of Justice to the Republican public association "Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research" for refusing to submit a questionnaire used during one of the polls.
The Justice Department of Mogilev Oblast Executive Committee issued a written warning to the Board of the Public Association "Belynichy Area Studies Society". The Board of the Association was requested to bring its legal address in line with the related legislation by 1 March, otherwise the association will be liquidated.
On 16 February the Ministry of Justice issued a written warning to the Republican Public Association “Association of the Belarusian Language named after Francysk Skaryna" (TBM). The Ministry of Justice motivated its claim saying that some TBM structures used residential premises for registering their legal addresses and have thus violated the provisions of the Housing Code of the Republic of Belarus.
2. Administrative responsibility for peaceful assemblies
On 15 February more than 10 special police officers and people in plain clothes raided a privately-owned apartment rented by Sergei Antonchik, the renowned public activist and a former deputy of the Supreme Soviet, where public activists from different parts of Belarus gather. The police detained Sergei Antonchik, his wife Tamara and around 20 other people. All of the detained people were taken to the police station of Sovietski Borough, where the police officers conducted an "identity check". A report registering organization of an unauthorized assembly was made (Article 167.1 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences) and then he was released.
On 24 February Oksana Reliava, judge of Sovietski Borough Court of Minsk, found Sergei Antonchik guilty of organizing an unauthorized assembly by terms of part 2 of Article 167.1 of the CAO and imposed a fine worth 150 basic units.
Sergei Antonchik called the court ruling unprecedented. He said, “A precedent has been made in Belarus. Now when people are getting together for weddings or funerals, police will be able to detain, arrest, imprison and punish anyone…” Mr. Frolov was detained by the police in his own apartment and taken to the Borough Department of Internal Affairs of Leninski Borough. The police officers there drew up a report for organization of unauthorized mass event, which was immediately sent to court. The Leninski Borough Judge ruled to fine him in the amount of 300 basic units (about 3 300 US dollars). V.Frolov denied his involvement with the action organization. The court treated as proof a signature on a flyer that called on the businessmen to gather in the central park of Grodno on 10 February. On 4 March Mikola Liemianovski, Human Rights Center Viasna activist, detained during the 3 March protest action staged by the businessmen was imprisoned for 15 days. The journalist Andrei Pachobut was arrested for 10 days.
Maxim Viniarski, a Zubr movement activist, was arrested for 15 days.
He was detained on 11 March immediately after an action in support of political prisoners.
On 15 March Tsentralny Borough Court found Zmitsier Dashkievich and Artur Finkievich, both leaders of the Young Front, guilty of violating part 2 of Article 167.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus, and arrested both for 15 days. Zmietsiet Dashkievich and Artur Finkievich had been preventively detained on 15 March at Oktiabrskaya Square of Minsk as suspects of organizing an action on the occasion of the Day of Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
On 23 March Dmitri Bondarenko, coordinator of the Charter-97 civil initiative, and Nikita Sasim, Zubr movement coordinator, were arrested for 10 days. D.Bondarenko together with the Zubr movement coordinator N.Sasim were detained on 22 March in Minsk after an action of solidarity with political prisoners.
Judge Alexei Bychko found Dmitri Bondarenko and Nikita Sasim guilty of violating articles 156 and 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences (disorderly conduct and insubordination to police).
List of 25 March Action Participants Sentenced in Court.
Tsentralny Borough Court:
1. Kanstantsin Karol – 5 days of administrative arrest, craniocerebral injury (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
2. Aliaxei Padnievich – 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Ilina);
3. Georgi Baikou – 5 days of administrative arrest (judge Yesman);
4. Viktar Novikau – 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Karalkova);
5. Anatol Tsikhanovich – 10 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
6. Karen Akopau – 15 days of administrative arrest (judge Aliaxei Bychko);
7. Dzianis Krauchonak -- 5 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
8. Aliaxandr Khaperskau -- 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Vera Hrabouskaya-Daineka);
9. Siarhei Bezhanau – 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Yesman);
10. Ivan Bykouski -- 3 days of administrative arrest;
11. Vadzim Taptunou -- 10 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
12. Iury Buhaieu – 3 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
13. Ihar Novikau (Niasvizh) – 3 days of administrative arrest (Niasvizh);
14. Viktar Savitski – fined 50 basic units (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
15. Viachaslau Siuchyk – 15 days of administrative arrest (judge Aliaxei Bychko);
16. Pavel Miatlitski – 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Inha Labynich);
17. Zmitsier Harbunou – fined 50 basic units (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
18. Aleh Minulin -- 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Aliaxei Bychko);
19. Piotr Sakolchyk -- 3 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
20. Uladzislau Barodka -- 3 days of administrative arrest (judge Inha Labynich);
21. Siarhei Lohinau -- 7 days of administrative arrest (judge Aliaxei Bychko);
22. Iury Fabisheuski -- 15 days of administrative arrest (judge – court chair Mikalai Samaseika);
23. Valiantsin Siemak – fined 50 basic units (judge Aliaxei Bychko);
24. Andrei Baranau – 15 days of administrative arrest (judge Aliaxei Bychko).
3. Politically-motivated criminal cases.
The administration of prison #19 in Mogilev, where Valeri Lievanievski, the leader of the Grodno businessmen, is serving his sentence, exerts pressure on him. This is what Lievonievski told his family in a letter.
Anatol Shumchenko, the leader of the businessmen’s organization “Perpesktiva” was charged with Article 339 part 1 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). Because of this, the term of keeping Shumchenko in custody was prolonged for the duration of the investigation procedures. A.Shumchenko was arrested on 1 March for taking part in the protest action staged by individual businessmen. On 11 March after he had served 10 days of arrest provided by the verdict he was to have been released, but on the following day it became known that Shumchenko was taken from the distribution detention center to the detention prison of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee to be accused of beating a cellmate. Article 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism), on which the charges brought are based, provides for public works or a fine, or an arrest for a term of up to 6 months, or imprisonment for up to 2 years. The Human Rights Center Viasna thinks that Shumchenko’s arrest is politically motivated.
The punishment for the doctor-radiologist Yuri Bandazhevski was not relaxed. After long-term treatment in Minsk, the former rector of Gomel Medical Institute was sent to correctional facility-settlement #26 in Grodno Oblast. Yu.Bandazhevski was arrested in July 1999, charged with “bribery” and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The international community has repeatedly called upon the Belarusian authorities to release Yuri Bandazhevski. Human rights activists are sure that Bandazhevski was imprisoned for conducting research on the harmful action of small radiation doses on the human body. The results of this research contradicted the position of the official medicine and authorities. The professor already served two thirds of his sentence and can count on conditional release.
On 10 March the political prisoner Mikhail Marinich, the former Minister for External Economic Relationships, an ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, who is now serving his sentence in Orsha prison #8 suffered a stroke. A man who identified himself as an Orsha resident informed the Narodnaya Volia editorial office about Mikhail Marinich having survived a stroke on 10 March. The prison governor told the politician’s relatives that Mr. Marinich’s health had “deteriorated”, refusing, however, to disclose details. Later on it was found out that Marinich had really survived a stroke. The left part of the politician’s face is paralyzed, one leg is barely functioning, speech is impeded. When Mikhail Marinich started to feel worse, the prison administration refused to help the sick man without a medical document. More that that, the political prisoner was denied the right to use the drugs he had on himself.
On 22 March Pavel Severinets and Mikola Statkievich were charged with organizing mass disorders on 18-19 October 2004 in Minsk. The case is based on Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization of or active involvement with group actions that disrupt public order). They can be sentenced to a term of up to three years in prison.
4. Special Services reinforce their acitivity
Editor of Krychev independent periodical Volny Horad and head of the district branch of the United Civic Party Sergei Nerovny was called to the inter-disctrict KGB department for a conversation. S.Nerovny treats the KGB call as a starting stage within a campaign of pressure on the democratic activists in the region. Also, KGB in Mogilev took an interest in the participants to a seminar staged by the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Belarusian Branch of the Ebert Foundation. Vitali Rugain, 11 grade student in a Mogivel school and editor of a school-based Belarusian-language newspaper, was called to the principal's study to talk with a KGB agent who asked the teenager about the details of the seminar, about its participants and the ideological direction of the journalists’ discussion.
On 22 March KGB attempted to arrest Vera Lozovskaya, a participant of the "Free Political Prisonsers!" actions and a Zubr movement activist. The girl was detained during the 11 March action for unfolding the poster "Free Political Prisoners!". She had a call from Frunzenski Borough Department of KGB in Minsk, the caller asking her to come for a “talk”. Her father went there instead. A KGB agent told him that unless they want problems with entering a university, Lozovskaya must agree to provide to the KGB information about the Zubr movement.
5. Freedom of speech violated
On 20 March special police detained three Polish journalists in Hrodna. The photographer of the polish edition of Newsweek Adam Tulchinski told AP reporters that he and another two reporters were detained at an electoral district in Grodno, where they were accredited for covering the elections to the local legislative bodies. The other two detained reporters is Michal Kacevic, a Newsweek analyst, and Martin Smialowski, a reporter for Polsat, television company. The Interior Ministry of Poland requested that the event be investigated.
On 24 March 2005 the editorial office of Zgoda newspaper was searched. During the 3-hour search 17 graphic images earlier published in the Zgoda were taken off the walls, and 4 computers were confiscated. All of this was sealed off. The Belarusian Association of Journalists turns attention to the fact that police and unidentified people in plain clothes ignored the criminal law provisions, groundlessly broke into privately-owned premises, performed a de facto unauthorized search, and confiscated computer equipment without any legitimate reasons provided. As a result, the journalists’ activity was paralyzed and a regular issue of the Zgoda could not be produced. The Belarusian Association of Journalists argues that the earlier relationships between the authorities and the independent media have not witnessed such large scale and outrageous interference on the part of police and other special services with the legally-conducted activity of the media.
6. Freedom of religion violated
On 22 March Nadezhda Reutskaya, judge of Moskovski Borough Court in Minsk, imposed a fine of 720 thousand rubles on Viacheslav Goncharenko, the pastor of the New Life church of the Association of Complete Gospel Christians' Community. The pastor is accused of administrative violation resulting from an illegal organization of a believers' assembly on 23 January in a former cow-shed with an area of 1.6 hectares bought by the community three years ago. The community requests that the authorities allow reconstruction of the cow-shed into a religious building, conducting divine services on the owned premises, and also stop pressure exerted on the church on the part of police.
7. Anti-Semitism cases
In March the leadership of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities (UBJPAC) expressed its concern over the continuing propaganda of Anti-Semitism and over the activity of youth-dominated marginal groups. According to the first Vice-Chair of the Union Jacob Basin, an analysis of what happened in January and February shows that cases of Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism become “increasingly neo-Nazi with the authorities choosing to completely ignore such cases in the country". “In February the memorial stones installed in the capital square in Sukhoi Street by the Jewish communities of the Germal cities of Hamburg, Dьsseldorf and Bremen in commemoration of their compatriots murdered by the Nazis in the Minsk ghetto during World War II were again desecrated. In an attempt to conceal these graffiti, the local authorities simply covered up the corrugated surfaces of the massive stones with black cement, completely disfiguring them by doing so", said Mr. Basin. He also said that popular Anti-Semitism is further fueled by a plurality of Anti-Semitic books, most of which come from Russia. “Outrageously, this literature, including the books by the infamous Russian Anti-Semite Oleg Platonov and Andrei Shmakov, the prominent Black-Hundreder of Tsarist Russia, are being sold in state bookshops", added Mr. Basin.