REVIEW OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS, MARCH 2006
Belarus has never seen such an attack on free-thinking. The authorities do not bother choosing the means to deal with people whose political views differ from the official ones. Security agencies began to grossly violate the Constitution and the laws. There was a whole wave of preventive arrests of civic activists close to the election. They were traditionally charged with disorderly conduct (Art 156 of the Code of Administrative Offences) and sentenced to 5-15 days in jail. That was a pre-planned action aimed at isolation of opposition leaders and activists before the election of March 19. In the period from February 17 (the beginning of campaigning) to the election day of March 19 the police detained more than 250 people. After the election over 700 peaceful protesters were arrested. Prosecutor General Piotr Miklashevich stated during the news conference that the absolute majority of the detained received terms of up to 15 days in jail. According to the Prosecutor General, over 400 people were detained: 288 protesters were jailed for 10 days, others – for 12-15 days; 53 under age people were released. The police detained 21 foreigners for participation in the unauthorized protest actions: 7 Ukrainians, 6 Poles, 4 Russians, 2 Georgians, 1 Lithuanian and 1 Canadian. According to P. Miklashevich, 4 foreigners were deported without any penalty measures, 2 under age foreigners (citizens of Poland and Ukraine) were released. 14 foreign citizens were sentenced to 3 to 15 days of jail. During the dispersal of the peaceful rally the authorities used special means – batons, gas, and noise grenades. Many protesters were seriously injured and taken to hospital.
1. Detentions and administrative arrests of peaceful protesters
On 6 March the police detained the chair of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka in the central square of Mahiliou. There he participated in a meeting with the electorate as an agent of the presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Anatol Liabedzka was accused of violation of two articles of the Code of Administrative Violations - article 166 (disobedience to legal demands of the police) and article 167.1 (holding of unauthorized mass action). On 7 March Mahiliou Leninski Court considered the cases against Anatol Liabedzka and the chair of Mahiliou regional HQ of Alexander Milinkevich Uladzimir Shantsau. They were charged with organization of the meetings with voters on the streets of Mahiliou. Liabedzka was fined about 700 US dollars, whereas Shantsau was sentenced to 15 days of jail.
On March 8 the police detained about 10 activists of Milinkevich’s headquarters, Vincuk Viacorka, leader of BPF and Milinkevich’s agent, among them. He was detained together with 4 other team members while transporting sound equipment after Milinkevich’s meeting with voters near Biarestsie Movie Theater to the next venue. After the rally on the second location (Tractor Plant Palace) the police detained more activists of Milinkevich’s team: Alexander Zelko, Siarhei Laptsevich, Artsiom Litvinenka, and Dzmitry Kudrautsau. On March 9 Vincuk Viacorka, Alexander Paulouski, and Piotr Babareka were sentenced to 15 days of jail.
In the night from March 23 to 24 about 10 trucks and a dozen of buses were brought to Kastrychnitskaya Square. The protesters sat down on the ground, held hands and chanted: “Police are with the People”. Then the police chief ordered: “Do the job!” and the “sweep” began. The detained, women among them, were packed in the choke-full buses and taken to jail. The police chose longer routes avoiding the central streets so that the people do not see the amount of arrests. Some buses were first brought to Kurapaty (the place of execution under Stalin regime); the police threatened the detained with execution.
On March 25 during the peaceful rally (Freedom Day), dedicated to the 88th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, 56 people were detained, according to the official information. Human rights organizations know of about 100 people detained. The courts sentenced them to 10-15 days of jail. Many participants of the rally were severely beaten by the riot police.
2. Politically-motivated Charges
On March 3 police pressed charges against Yury Radzivil, activist of the team of the former presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin. Yury Radzivil is accused of violent actions against the police officers. Maskouski prosecutor’s office of Minsk pressed charges with applying violence or attempt of violence against police officers. Radzivil was driving the car which wheels were shot by strangers in plain clothes during the detention of Alexander Kazulin. He is kept in detention from the evening of March 2. The police claims, Yury Radzivil has refused to obey the officers who named themselves and demanded that he should go out of the car. Instead, he locked the doors of the car from inside and started to move. As the result, the police claim Radzivil has created a threat for lives and health of the police officers who jumped to the car. Yury Radzivil pleads not guilty. In reality he has become a victim of attack of unknown people: “all of a sudden I saw 4 people in black appear from nowhere: black caps, black jackets, their faces were covered to the maximum. Everything happened so fast. Suddenly they began to shoot. Instinctively I bent down my head and gassed; the car started to move because the engine was on. The wind-screen broke. I don’t know, whether it happened because of the shooting or hitting with a gun”.
On 5 March 2006 Anastasia Azarka, resident of Niasvizh, was charged with a crime. She was summonsed to Minsk regional Board of Internal Affairs and informed about the charge. According to the investigator’s ruling, Ms Azarka is suspected of “active participation in the illegal activity of the unregistered NGO Young Front, carried out since October 1998 and in a group with other individuals. She distributed printed materials which contained urges to fight against the present public order and the present state authorities of the Republic of Belarus, participated in the organization and holding of unauthorized meetings, oppositional and other activities aimed at reaching the aims of the abovementioned organization, and received financial compensation for that”.
The criminal case against Andrei Panasik, public activist of the town of Masty, was brought on 11 March 2006 on article 193.1 of the CC (illegal organization of the activity of public association, religious organization or fund or participation in it). He is suspected in participation in the activity of the unregistered public initiative Partnership. The article provides up to 6 months of jail or up to 2 years of personal restraint as punishment.
On March 25 police detained Alexander Kazulin, former presidential candidate. For over 20 hours the family of Alexander Kazulin could not get an answer from the authorities on Kazulin’s health and whereabouts. Later it was found out that Kazulin had been severely beaten during detention and on the way to Zhodzina detention center. Police used tortures against him.
Kazulin was taken to Zhodzina detention center on the ground of the ruling by Minsk city police, sanctioned by Minsk prosecutor’s office. On March 30 the police pressed charged against Alexander Kazulin. Kazulin is charged with 2 crimes – for the events that happened on February 17 in the building of the National Press Center (malicious hooliganism, Art 339 part 1 of the Criminal Code); for the events on March 2 in Kastrychnitski police department; and the events on March 25 he is charged under Art 342 part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing group actions which grossly violate public order and connected with obvious disobedience to the legal demands of representatives of the authorities or actions which resulted in breach of work of the public transport, institutions, companies or organizations; or active participation in such actions”. The first charge may lead to a fine, or arrest for up to 5 months, or restriction of freedom for up to 3 years, or a prison term for the same time. With the second charge Kazulin faces an arrest of 3 to 6 months, or restriction of freedom for up to 5 years, or imprisonment for the term of 1 to 6 years.
On March 27 KGB department for fighting terrorism and organized crime pressed charges against Zmitser Dashkevich, Aleh Korbun, Barys Haretski, and Siarzhuk Lisichonak. The activists are charged with violation of Art 193.1 part 1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of activity of a non-governmental organization, religious organization or foundation, or participation in their activity). The members of Young Front face fines, arrest for up to 6 months, or imprisonment for up to 2 years. On March 27 KGB searched the apartments of Siarzhuk Lisichonak and Alaksei Shein. KGB investigators were primarily interested in printed materials and media which might be related to activities of Young Front organization.
3. Arbitrary Detentions
Friends and families of the peaceful protesters during the actions of Kastrychnitskaya Square faced a very serious problem – they could not receive any information about the detained. Some were unsuccessfully looking for their relatives for 4 days. The families were shocked. They could not even imagine that in peaceful time it is possible to simply “lose” a person, and to be denied information about the fate of their family members. The people who lost members of their families shared their impressions that their children “vanished in the dark”, “disappeared”, as well as “we failed to receive information about where he was tried, and where he is now”. In order to understand the anxiety of parents, spouses, children and friends, one should remember the threats spread by KGB chief Sukharenka before the election – life sentences and capital punishment.
On March 2 riot police severely beat candidate Alexander Kazulin, activists of his HQs, and reporters. In the morning of March 2 Alexander Kazulin and his supporters came to Chyhunachny Palace in Minsk, where delegates were registering for the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly. Kazulin was nominated delegate to the Assembly by the Congress of the Social Democratic Party (Hramada). Kazulin explained to a representative of the registration commission that according to the law he had the right to participate in the Assembly. When Kazulin, his supporters and reporters headed to the registration table, their way was blocked by people in plain clothes commanded by Dzmitry Paulichenka, chief of riot police. Paulichenka and several other people knocked Kazulin down and started to beat him unmercifully with their feet. The rest blocked the candidate’s supporters and journalists. Then Kazulin was driven away to Minsk Kastrychnitski police department. Near the police department the police detained activists of his electoral headquarters, as well as photo correspondents Yulia Darashkevich from Nasha Niva, Vasil Fiadosenka from Reuters and Siarhei Hryts from the Associated Press. The police took away their cameras. The riot police also severely beat cameraman of Reuters Dzmitry Madorski (was later taken to hospital with an eye injury), Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter Aleh Ulevich (had a broken nose and other injuries) and staff member of Kazulin’s press-service Andrei Maksimau. 11 more activists of Kazulin’s headquarters and Belgazeta reporter Dzmitry Brushko were taken to Minsk Leninski police department. During the detention the police seriously beat 2 activists of Kazulin’s team. Ivan Labachou has broken ribs. The police also broke ribs and seriously injured head of Uladzimir Seviaryn.
Participants of the peaceful protests on Kastrychnitskaya Square detained on March 20-24 also suffered tortures and beating. One of the detained had his hair cut by force. People were beaten during the detention, in the buses, and in the detention center. Human rights defender Yury Chavusau was among those beaten: “They grabbed me, dragged me to the bus, and started to beat. They beat on the head, kidneys, back and face. They used their fists and feet. They made me lie on the floor and one policeman put his foot on my head. Then they brought 2 more guys to the bus, and also beat and insulted them”.
Alexander Tsishuk from Biarozauka was beaten on March 25. He was taken to hospital # 4.
5. Violation of the Right to Freedom of Speech
On 3 March Belarusian customs officers stopped 2 trucks carrying the whole print-run (#39) of "Narodnaya Volia" - 250 thousand copies. The issue was dedicated to the events that took place in Minsk on March 2 - the beating of a presidential candidate A.Kazulin and surrounding circumstances, and to the meeting with voters organized by A.Milinkevich. The issue's banner headline was “March 2. Minsk. All-Belarusian seizure”. A special article “Black Thursday” was dedicated to the events that happened on 2 March, there were interviews with the participants (A.Kazulin and V.Fralou), photos etc. The police claimed they suspected Narodnaya Volia of violation of articles 45 and 48 of the Election Code (equal opportunities for all candidates).