International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights: Belarusian Election Results Lack Credibility
Prosecutor General Should Investigate Restriction of Opposition Campaigns and Abuse of Executive Authority, and Ensure Right to Peaceful Assembly
Minsk, Vienna, 20 March 2006. In view of overwhelming evidence of the violation of international standards and Belarusian law, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) are calling upon the Belarusian Prosecutor General to investigate the conduct of governmental authorities before and during the presidential election in which incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has claimed a victory of over 80 percent, and to protect the right to peaceful assembly on the part of those demanding new, fair elections.
“Demonstrations in Minsk are peaceful and legitimate. Threats to invoke anti-terrorism legislation against them are an egregious abuse of the ‘war on terrorism’ as a pretext to restrict basic human rights,” according to the two organizations.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) conducted wide-ranging monitoring of the presidential election campaign, and the election was also observed at different points by representatives of the Norwegian, Russian and Swedish Helsinki Committees and staff of the IHF Secretariat. The BHC analyzed compliance of the election process with domestic legislation and international standards, and implementation of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criteria elaborated for Belarus, which included: ending the climate of fear; equal access to state-run media for all candidates; respect of the freedom of assembly and association; and fairness with respect to registration of candidates and functioning of election commissions.
The assessment of the campaign and election based on this monitoring may be summarized as follows:
1. An atmosphere of fear was created before the election and strengthened during the campaign. Mr. Sukharenka, the Belarusian KGB chairman, in his statements broadcast on national electronic media, repeatedly alleged the existence of a conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. On 16 March, Mr. Sukharenka, Mr. Miklashevich, Prosecutor General, and Mr. Navumau, Minister of Interior, jointly and publicly threatened with prosecution any persons participating in street manifestations, which are a priori assessed by the security bodies as “terrorist activities.” Attempts to oust the government by “terrorist means” will be dealt with in accordance with the strict anti-terror laws, and can be punishable by death sentence .
2. In the opinion of legal analysts of the BHC, the registration of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a candidate to the presidency was not based on the law. As a result of the referendum on 17 October 2004, the results of which were considered fraudulent by the BHC and many other human rights groups, the phrase that "one and the same person can be the President for no more than two terms" was excluded from the Constitution. This being the case, the issue should be regulated by law. Indeed, Art. 8 of the acting Law on the President of the Republic of Belarus states, “the term of office of the President is five years. One and the same person can be the President for no more than two terms.” This norm does not contradict the constitution, which does not cover this issue any more. From a legal point of view, the Central Election Commission should have rejected the registration of Mr. Lukashenka.
3. Election commissions at all levels were formed by the authorities without taking into account the principles of transparency and pluralism. Neither representatives of oppositional political parties nor members of pro-democratic NGOs and human rights groups were included into the commissions. A few citizens with opposition views managed to enter the commissions by hiding their political affiliations. Significant numbers of members of divisional election commissions served along with their employers. Some commissions consisted wholly of workers from the same enterprise with the superior of such enterprise as the head. Representatives of opposition formations were refused without justifying reasons.
Executive authorities extensively interfered into the election process: collecting signatures in support of Lukashenka; organizing massive and in some cases forced early voting; and creating so called "working groups assisting election commissions" (which are not consistent with any legal provision) in all regions of the country. State-run enterprises and institutions elaborated and implemented "plans on preparation and conducting of the election" including "work" with heads, deputy heads and secretaries of election commissions.
4. Opposition representatives and the campaign of President Lukashenka operated under unequal conditions during the campaign. For example, opposition parties collected signatures on the streets in 28-degree frost while the incumbent used the government apparatus to obtain signatures under the auspices of administration of state-run enterprises and institutions. Meager available financing for opposition campaigns gave a huge advantage to the incumbent president who illegally exploited administrative resources. Voters’ access to political information through the media was significantly limited and ideologically distorted: the Central Election Commission stated that publication of information materials about a candidate by the independent media would be considered as rendering illegal financial assistance to him that could lead to his expulsion from the campaign. On the eve of the election, independent media were deprived of the possibility of dissemination through news-stands and subscription; circulation of a number of such newspapers was halted.
The state bodies held a wide information campaign "For Belarus!" during the campaign period, which included a concert tour featuring propaganda for President Lukashenka. President Lukashenka received more than 95 % of the coverage devoted to the four candidates on the news broadcasts of the main Belarusian TV channels, which are all state-run. Speeches of two oppositional candidates, Kazulin and Milinkevich, were censored and police impeded their meetings with voters. A number of websites providing information about the campaign, such as “Charter97”, “Milinkevich.org” and others were attacked and closed on Election Day.
5. Active supporters of the oppositional candidates and independent observers faced persecution from police and state security bodies. Dozens were detained, arrested and fined. On the eve of the election the authorities reinstated enormous sanctions against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and renewed criminal persecution of BHC officials threatening them with 7-year prison term and confiscation of property despite the fact that court had cleared the Committee of all charges. On 2 March, Mr. Kazulin was hindered from attending the All-Belarusian People Assembly. He was beaten and detained by men in plain clothes under supervision of Colonel Paulichenka, head of the special force for urgent reaction, “SOBR”. (Colonel Paulichenka, should be noted, is suspected by human rights investigators of kidnapping well-known Belarusian citizens for political reasons.) Members of Kazulin’s headquarter and journalists, present at the registration office for the Assembly, were beaten as well.
6. The actions of the government clearly violate Belarus’ commitment to abide by Paragraph 7.5 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document, which stipulates that governments of OSCE participating States respect the right of citizens to seek political or public office. President Lukashenka, other officials, and commentators of the state-run media repeatedly affronted oppositional candidates Kazulin and Milinkevich.
7. Administrations of state-run institutions and enterprises urgently called their workers and students to participate in early voting, which is envisaged by law as a matter of exception, and provides an opportunity for fraud in the absence of inspection by representatives of different candidates in the mandate of election commissions. According to data collected by the BHC, around 50 % of voters have voted before the Election Day (the assessment of the Central Election Commission is about 40 %). And about 90 % of military and police officers voted ahead of Election Day.
8. The election was not transparent. Observers were hindered from familiarizing themselves with the number of voters registered at polling stations and number of ballots received by commissions. They were not able to carry out efficient observation of counting votes. A number of observers were expelled from polling stations.
For further information:
Dzmitry Markusheuski, BHC Press Officer, +375 - 29 709 5702
Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43- 1 - 408 88 22 or (0)676 - 635 66 12
Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43 - 1 - 408 88 22 or (0) 676 - 725 48 29