REVIEW OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS IN NOVEMBER 2005
Lukashenka actively prepares to the upcoming election. In November it became known the authorities decided to almost double the number of the riot policemen in the “potentially dangerous” Minsk. On 25 the lower chamber of the Parliament adopted in the first reading the amendments to the Criminal and the Criminal-process Code that increase the responsibility for “actions against individual and public security”. As a result, the Criminal Code is supplied with a number of new articles, in private:
• Article 193-1 on "Illegal Organization of Activities of a Public Association, Foundation or Participation in Their Activities" envisages that organizing activities or participating in activities of organizations or foundations whose liquidation or suspension has been decided by Belarusian courts or judicial authorities, are to be punished by a fine or arrest up to six months, or by imprisonment of up to two years.
• Article 293 of the draft law is accompanied by a regulation according to which "education or other forms of preparation” for mass riots, or financing such actions are to be punished by arrest of up to six months or imprisonment of up to three years. On the basis of new Article 342 training or other preparation of people for participation in group actions, which grossly violate public order, as well as financing or other material support of such activities, can lead to imprisonment of up to two years.
• According to the draft bill the punishment for acts of "public appeals for seizure of power or forcible change of the constitutional system" would be increased to range from six months of arrest up to three years of imprisonment.
• Calls addressed to foreign states to perform actions damaging external security of Belarus, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as dissemination of materials containing such appeals, are to be punished by arrest, the term ranging from six month up to three years. In case these calls would be disseminated by the mass media, the punishment is stricter - deprivation of liberty for a period of two to five years. Now any journalist, who criticizes the situation in Belarus in a mass media, can be punished for “discrediting”. At the press-conference, dedicated to the explanation of the new norms, vice-minister of justice Aliaksandr Petrash, said:
-- I think you don’t say anything bad about your family… That’s why, it’s better not to say anything bad about your republic, even if there’s something bad in it. In every concrete case the evaluation will be given by the court.
1. The right to association
The authorities facilitated the establishment of the new Union of Writers. They acted on the scheme that was tested on the Union of Poles several months ago – by splitting the existing organization that could be no longer successfully controlled by the state.
Regional Executive Committees conducted assemblies in the regions, where delegates for the national assembly were chosen by the ideological boards. The assembly was secured by the riot police. Mikalai Charhinets, chair of the regular commission on international affairs and national security who many times proved his devotion to the regime, was elected the head of the new union. The authorities started pushing the Union of Belarusian Writers out of the legal field long ago. After the monopolization of the word “Belarus” by the state in 1996 the organization had to change its name from “Union of Writers of Belarus” to “Union of Belarusian Writers”. The next step to be expected after the registration of the “pocket” Union of Writers is liquidation of the “disloyal” one.
2. Persecution of human rights activists
More than a month has passed since the gunning of the flat of Sviatlana and Aliaksei Lapitskis, coordinators of HRC Viasna. The persons guilty still haven’t been found. A criminal case has been brought upon Article #339 of the Criminal Code (malignant hooliganism). In October one of the flat’s windows was smeared with black paint and several days later gunned from a pneumatic pistol and then sluiced with black paint. The investigation found the unknown person made six shots from a pneumatic gun of German production on the level of the workplace. Aliaksei Lapitski doubts the investigation will be fruitful.
On 26 in Homel the police detained Viachaslau Andreieu from Vitsebsk initiative group of Amnesty International (AI) and Siarhei Razumau from Homel group. They took part in the work of the Coordinative committee of the public initiative “Belarusian organization of Amnesty International”. The detainees were taken to a police station and kept there for more than 5 hours. Viachaslau Bortnik, vice-chair of the public initiative “Belarusian organization of Amnesty International” came to the police to inquire about the fate of the detained colleagues and was detained as well. The people were released at 1 a.m.
3. Administrative punishment of public and political activists
On 3 November at the Central market of Hrodna the police detained Uladzimir Levaneuski, son of Valery Levaneuski, son of the imprisoned Valery Levaneuski, chair of the nationwide strike committee of entrepreneurs of the Republic of Belarus.
In the evening of 8 November Uladzislau Barodka, activist of Zubr and Dzianis Zalutski, member of the United Civil Party were detained by the police with the major Ruslan Savitski at the head. The police composed a detention report and then let the detainees go. About 30 Zubr activists were arrested by the police on the eve of the Day of Solidarity with political prisoners.
On 23 November the final trial over the ZUBR activist Andrei Paluda took place. Mr. Paluda was detained on November 16, 2005 by the Minsk region traffic police and later charged with violating Article 156 of CAO (disorderly conduct). Despite substantial discrepancies in the evidence given by the police, one of them simply said that he had received a “recommendation” to detain A.Paluda’s car, Judge Karaliou, of Leninski Court, ruled to fine Andrei Paluda one basic unit.
4. Persecution of political leaders and public activists
On 24 November several opposition activists were detained near the town of Halshany. The detained activists included Siarhei Malchyk (the head of the regional branch of the BPF Party), Anatol Khatsko (Labor Party) and Viktar Sazonau (representative of the Human Rights Center Viasna in Hrodna Region). They were going to Smarhon through Ashmiany and were detained for alleged violation of the border rules. The traffic police detained their car and accompanied it to the District Department of Internal Affairs in Ashmiany, where they fined them 250 thousand Belarusian rubles, and then the car of the opposition activists accompanied by the police car with beacons was accompanied to the outside of Ashmiany District. All of the operation was governed by "plainclothes" who all the time talked over the mobile phones and explained to the local police officer what and how to do.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
Mikalai Autukhovich, arrested entrepreneur from Vaukavusk, has been on hunger-strike for more than sixty days already. He is kept in Hrodna investigative isolator and CAN DIE ANY MOMENT. The head of the medical department of Hrodna investigative isolator informed his defense lawyers about it. M. Autukhovich wasn’t able to familiarize with the results of the economical expertise that were brought by Mikalai Alikhver, investigator of the board of financial investigations. The prisoner couldn’t even sit. After this medics started insisting on transferring him to a hospital and putting droppers into his veins, but Autukhovich categorically refused from it. He stated he would stop the hunger-strike only after his release. The regional procurator’s office refused to change the restraint to him and even prolonged it till 15 January despite the fact the investigation of his case was over.
Recently the unemployed Uladzimir Asipenka, the secretary of Niko-trans enterprise Liudmila Parembskaia, the businessman Anatol Dzieshka and the drivers Ivan Ianushkevich, Mikhail Semiarych and Dzmitry Liankevich who drive the cars of Autukhovich have stopped the hunger-strike.
Uladzimir Asipenka told RFE/RL he had mailed to the chair of Vaukavysk District Executive Committee and the independent weekly Mestnaya Gazeta information why the hunger-strike was stopped.
-- We have collected 377 signatures of Vaukavysk citizens under the appeal to the president for changing the restraint to Autukhovich. This document was submitted to the Presidential Administration, -- said Mr. Asipenka.
We should remind that Mr. Autukhovich was arrested on 14 October in Hrodn and charged with evasion from payment of taxes, which resulted in especially large loss to the state budget. The criminal case against him was brought upon part 2 of article #243, providing 3-7 years of jail as punishment. During two years he held three hunger-strikes of protests, two of which were joined by the taxi drivers as a result of which the actions became mass ones, more than 30 persons took part in them. The first hunger-strike took place in October 2003, the second – in spring 2004 and the last – in the end of September. Mr. Autukhovich protested against the fines, imposed on him by the tax inspection and (two years ago) against the arrest of the taxi cars that belonged to him. In the end of September the Presidium of the Supreme Economic Court of the Republic of Belarus ruled to direct the case against the businessman for reconsideration and the businessman stopped the hunger-strike. However, soon a criminal case was brought against him.
The investigation of the criminal case against the activists of the Union of Poles is going on. Mechyslau Iaskevich was interrogated as a witness. The case was brought upon Article #185 of the Criminal Code (forcing to action by threats) on the appeal of Viktar Bohdan, director of the Polish House in Shchuchyn, who accused the journalists Andrei Pachobut and Andzhei Pisalnik and the officially unrecognized UPB vice-chairs Iuzaf Pazhetski and Vieslau Keuliak in intimidation. Recently the police confronted them to Bogdan. Several days ago the regional procurator’s office prolonged the investigation for one more month.
On 13 November Valery Levaneuski, chair of the Nationwide strike committee of businessmen, went on hunger-strike in the corrective colony of Ivatsevichy. There he spends his two-year prison term for alleged insult of Lukashenka (part 2 of Article #268 of the Criminal Code).
This is his fifth hunger-strike in jail. He protests against illegal deprival of meetings with family and also demands to stop the provocations, staged by the colony administration. V. Levaneuski was also deprived of the right to buy anything in the prison shop and receive food parcels.
6. The liberty of speech and the right to distribute information
On 18 November Belarus was included into the list of the countries with “repressive governments that try to control internet”. The list was composed by the international organization Reporters Without Borders that deals with defense of the rights of journalists. The organization points that the state enterprise Beltelekam is the only provider of access to internet, which makes it much easier for the authorities to watch the content of the sites.
The independent newspapers Narodnaia Volia, Salidarnasts and Zgoda weren’t included into the subscription catalog for 2006. The editors of these editions received letters from the administration of the state enterprise Belposhta informing them about the breech of the cooperation with the newspapers since 1 January. As a result the newspapers lose access to their readers. The editors consider it a political decision and state that in the present conditions it is impossible to establish an independent system of distribution because this activity is licensed.
At the same time, the police detain the persons who distribute Narodnaia Volia. The detained activists consider these detentions illegal and complain against them to prcurator’s office.
On 7 November in Lenin Square in Homel the police detained the member of United Civil Party Maryia Bahdanovich for distribution of Tovarishch newspaper (edition of the Party of Communists of Belarus) together with the enclosed fly-sheet concerning problems of the housing economy. She was detained at a police station for two hours. The police took explanations from her and confiscated 72 copies of the newspaper. They didn’t compose any protocol of confiscation. According to M. Bahdanovich, the main pretensions of the police concerned the fly-sheet that contained no issue data. The fly-sheet included the comparative table of the public utilities fees for 2001 and 2004 along with related remarks of officials and ordinary citizens.
On 11 November the information minister Uladzimir Rusakevich signed the order to annul the registration of Molodiozhnyi prospect newspaper.
On 2 November Hrodna Leninski Borough Procurator’s Office issued the official warning to Hrodna journalist Andzhei Pisalnik for having “insulted Belarusian people” in one of his publications. In his interview to BAJ he emphasized that the warning was issued for a publication in foreign press. It was the article “Pole of Aliaksandr Ryhoravich” published in #21 of Gloz znad Niemna newspaper (issued in Poland). Procurator Urublieuski, who signed the warning, is of the opinion the content of the article “insults the national honor and dignity” of citizens of Belarus and the present chair of the Union of Poles, Mr. Luchnik. In the case the journalist continues his “lawless activity” the procurator’s office promises to “punish him in accordance with the legal order”. At the prosecutor’s office Mr. Pisalnik was also told his actions could be qualified as violation of Article #130 of the Criminal Code. This is already the second warning that has been issued to him by Hrodna Leninski Borough Procurator’s Office lately: on 29 September he was warned about the inadmissibility to introduce himself as the chief editor of Gloz znad Niemna, weekly of the Union of Poles in Belarus.
On 11 November Minsk Tsentralny Borough Court considered the suit of Sviatlana Zavadskaia, wife of the missing cameraman of the ORT Russian TV channel Dzmitry Zavadski against the refusal to bring a criminal case against the riot policeman Iury Davidovich, who beat her during the action held on 7 July 2005 in Kastrychnitskaia Square in Minsk to remind people about the missing opposition activists. At the beginning of the trial the judge Valiery Iesman didn’t allow the human rights activist Alieh Hulak to defend Sviatlana Zavadskaia’s interests. Then the court watched the videotape of the events. However, according to Sviatlana Zavadskaia, the tape was edited:
-- The tape was partially erased. In the earlier version the policeman’s face after he hit me could be clearly seen. There wasn’t any blood, bruises and scratches on his face that could witness it was a fight between us. However, instead of this part of the tape there appeared the recording of another ORT program. The procurator said that this very tape was passed to the court by ORT. However, representatives of Belarusian ORT bureau were present at the trial. They confirmed the tape didn’t contain the recording of another program when they passed it to the procurator’s office. The tape was 35 minutes long, only two-minute fragment was shown at the trial. That’s why I think the materials of the procurator’s check-up were falsified.
During the meeting with journalists on 22 November the colonel of the riot police Iury Padabed (who beat the chairman of the United Civil party Anatol Liabedzka during the mass action of protest against the falsification of the results of the parliamentary election and the referendum in October 2004) said his subordinate Iury Davidovich would continue his service in the police and he had no pretensions to him.
On 10 November the procurator’s office of Tsentralny Borough reviewed the complaint from Mikita Sasim, a Zubr movement activist, against the court ruling that refused to launch criminal proceedings to investigate his beating into a cranial trauman and hospitalization during the action of remembrance on 16 September.
On 15 November Mikita Sasim received the procurator's office resolution signed by the procurator of Tsentralny Borough, Senior Justice Council Mr. Khadatovich, that says that the case materials have been sent for additional checkup, of whose results he will be informed.
8. Fomenting of international enmity
Representatives of the Romany society of Belarus are indignant at showing of the film “Tabor goes to jail” by the Belarusian TV channel ONT and insist on official apologies of its author. These demands are stated in the appeal they submitted to the head of the Committee on religious and national affairs and the chair of the Commission on human rights of the Republic of Belarus.
According to representatives of the Romany society, the film contains much negative information about the Romany. In the very beginning it is said the journalist’s aim wasn’t to discredit the whole Romany society. However, this film brings on such results. The movie is based on the police taping of the detention of drug dealers.
9. The right to education
On 25 November Uladzimir Shymau, rector of Belarusian State Economic University, signed the order for expelation of atsiana Khoma, a student of the international economic relations department of BSEU. Two weeks before she was elected to the Board of the Union of National Students’ Association of Europe (ESIB), the largest European students’ organization that deals with the defense of the rights and interests of the students in Europe.
The official reason claimed by the university administration is that Tatsiana missed three days of academic studies without the permission of the dean's office to attend the ESIB Congress in France, which elected the new leadership of the organization. However, many public activists say she was expelled for political reasons, because of the election to the ESIB Board.
10. Activation of the secret services
On 10 November KGB attempted to recruit the activist of Zubr movement Alena Kopach. In the morning a policeman came to her flat and passed her summons to the Board of Internal Affairs of the Subway. He also took her there, where two persons were waiting for her. One of them introduced himself as S.V. Sazonau, criminal search policemen, and the other, in plain clothes, didn’t introduce himself at all. He asked questions about Zubr movement and wanted to find out where the informational materials that were distributed by the organization activists were kept. He also said it belonged on the girl’s answers whether she would be expelled from her university or no. When she refused to answer, he threatened he would meet her later.
Secret services also persecuted the student of Belarusian State Economic University Tatsiana Khoma before she was expelled from the university. Tatsiana Khoma said the following concerning it:
-- In the morning of 24 November I was invited to the vice-dean’s office. There sat a man, who “wanted to speak with me”. I know that in such situations I had the right not to speak with nobody who weren’t from the university about anything that wasn’t related to education. That’s why I asked him to introduce himself. He said he was a worker of the university’s department of upbringing. He asked me what ESIB was, who financed it, how it treated Belarus and whether it passed any resolutions concerning our country. The following day I found out he was from KGB. Probably, it explains why my question was solved so quickly.