HRC Viasna staged a press conference devoted to the adoption of amendments to the Criminal Code by the Chamber of Representatives in the first reading on November 25, and also the expulsion of Tatsiana Khoma from Belarusian State Economic University
The press conference took place on November 28. Tatsiana Khoma, Valiantsin Stefanovich, the HRC Viasna lawyer, Aleh Hulak, the lawyer of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the deputy chair of the Helsinki Committee and the human rights activist Hary Pahaniaila spoke in front of the journalists.
- On November 24 Uladzimier Shymau, the rector of Belarusian State Economic University, signed the expulsion order. The basis of the expulsion is the "unofficial unauthorized departure abroad" and absence from the classes during three days. During my visit to France I was elected to the governing board of the European Students' Organization ESIB. When the rector's office learned about that, they decided to expel me.
The university administration qualified my departure as an insult on BSEU and "according to the internal university rules and the articles of the Labor Code" they applied this form of disciplinary punishment to me.
I would like to say that before my fourth year I have not had a single warning and have been one of the top students of the year. I have repeatedly attended conferences, promoting the image of the department and the university.
- What was your reaction to these events?
- The first reaction was indignation. The rector did not even talk to me. Last Thursday in the morning they invited me to the dean's office. A man sitting in the deputy dean's office said he would like to have a talk with me. I asked him who he was. He said that he represents the educational department of the university. Our talk lasted for about an hour. He asked questions about ESIB, about its funding sources and its position to Belarus. He never gave me his name.
Then, in one of the talks with the university representatives I was told that this was a KGB agent and so my "issue" was resolved so fast as a result of this conversation.
- How fast?
- On Friday, November 25, when I found out that my expulsion order had been signed I was evicted from the dormitory. And I had to do that in two hours. It looked like I had been expelled from the university and thrown out of the dormitory right into the street, where it was snowing hard that day.
All of the university employees whom I met and talked with expressed their support to me. I believe that there is solidarity among Belarusian students. I feel this. The ESIB leadership contacted international educational, students' and human rights organizations. Thanks to them, many people in many countries of Europe know about my situation now. I am very grateful to them for support.
- What are planning to do in the near future?
- I contacted my lawyers. We prepared a complaint to the Ministry of Education, which will be filed soon. I am expecting my lecturers to provide me with a reference. The students who studied together with me want to collect signatures in my support.
Valiantsin STEFANOVICH, the Human Rights Center Viasna lawyer, comments:
- That's true, the student was away from classes. But the punishment provided is admonition rather than expulsion. I believe that the court must give an appropriate evaluation of this order.
First of all, the university leadership did not have any valid reasons for expelling the students from the university. The order clearly says: "expelled for unauthorized departure abroad". It means that a student who wants to go abroad has to request permission from the rector. This violates the Constitution of Belarus, where Article 30 guarantees to citizens the right of unobstructed departure abroad and return home.
The other theme of the press conference was the changes to the Criminal Code that may be adopted and take effect in the near future. Commenting the situation, Valiantsin Stefanovich also said:
- The changes to the Criminal Code bring our country back to the worst times of totalitarianism. Today independent media cannot be distributed, public and political activists are being persecuted. We view these changes as the Soviet-time articles "Anti-Soviet propaganda" which were used to send many people to prison.
The Human Rights Center Viasna would try to do everything to prevent these changes from taking effect.
We believe that they may lead to a considerable increased in politically motivated criminal cases. If today dozens of people are behind bars, after these changes take effect, hundreds may become political prisoners. Any attempt to defend your rights will be criminally punished.
Hary PAHANIAILA: "1937 has already arrived in Belarus…"
- I would like to say a few words about the newspapers. Today I filed a personal suit regarding the violation of consumer rights due to the impossibility to subscribe to the newspaper Narodnaia volia. Any person can file such a suit. I want the people all over the country to start filing suits with courts. Such public pressure will become real help to the periodicals that are not included to the 2006 Catalog and cannot reach their readers.
The amendments to the Criminal Code were brought before the Chamber of Representatives on 23 November. The second reading was to have taken place on December 1 or 2. Then, according to the regulations, the Law on the Introduction of Amendments will be sent to the Council of Republic, and then to the President for signature. Everything is happening very fast so that before the Human Rights Day on December 10 we may well get a very unusual "gift"…