Repression during the Presidential Election in Belarus -- 2006
(Election Day – March 19, 2006) Human Rights Center “Viasna”
1. Administrative penalties to activists of election headquarters of opposition presidential candidates, youth activists, etc.:
-- in the period from the beginning of the election campaign till the Election day:
236 people were convicted;
90 % of penalties – arrests up to 15 days, 10% -- fines of different size.
-- in the period from the Election Day of March 19 till March 25: 686 people convicted in Minsk, about 50 people – in the regions. Among them, only in 5 cases the penalty was limited to a fine; in all other cases the people received prison terms from 4 to 15 days.
2. Criminal Cases
A) Political prisoners (opposition leaders and activists, convicted for political reasons and serving their sentences at present): Alexander Kazulin On July 13, 2006 Alexander Kazulin, leader of the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Hramada) and former presidential candidate was found guilty of hooliganism, as well as of organizing group activities violating public order and active participation in them. He was sentenced to 5.5 years of imprisonment in a minimum security prison.
Prosecuting official of Maskouski prosecutor’s office Siarhei Bortnik demanded a penalty of 6 years of imprisonment for Professor Kazulin. Maskouski court judge Aliaksei Rybakou reduced that term by 6 months. On March 30 ex-presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin was indicted in the investigation of three episodes: events in Minsk on February 17 and March 2 – Article 339 part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism), and the events of March 25 – Article 342 (“organization of group activities severely violating public order and accompanied by apparent disobedience to legal demands of official representatives, or resulting in interruption of traffic, disturbances for companies, institutions, and organizations; or active participation in such activities, in absentia of elements of a greater offence”). Alexander Kazulin is in detention from the moment of his arrest on March 25.
On September 19 the board of judges of Minsk city court heard a cassation appeal of the politician and upheld the previous verdict. The board of judges dismissed the petition about Kazulin’s personal participation in the hearing of his cassation complaint. Mikola Astreika and Tsimafei Dranchuk On February 21, 2006 KGB officers arrested Tsimafei Dranchuk, Mikola Astreika, Alexander Shalaika, and Enira Branitskaya, leaders of Partnership, civic initiative for election observation. They were arrested on suspicion of terrorism and conspiring to violently overthrow the government. The arrest was extensively covered by the Belarusian State Television. On March 2 all the detained were indicted for violation of Article 193 part 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing or leading the activity of a non-governmental association or a religious organization, which infringes the personality, rights and obligations of citizens). According to the Criminal Code of Procedure, individuals charged under this article, can be kept in detention before trial. This has become the first detention and the first criminal case, initiated under the new amendments of the Criminal code, initiated by KGB and adopted by parliament in December 2005.
The new articles of the Criminal code came into force on January 1, 2006. The judge decided the trial would be closed for public. The decision was based on necessity to protect witnesses, although witnesses had not requested such protection measures. On August 4 Centralny court of Minsk (Judge Leanid Yasenovich) found four Partnership activists guilty under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of activity of a public association, or religious organization, or a foundation, or participation in their activity). Enira Branitskaya and Alexander Shalaika were sentenced to 6 months of detention, Tsimafei Dranchuk – to 1 year of imprisonment in a minimal security jail, and Mikola Astreika – to 2 years of imprisonment in a minimum security jail. On August 21 Alexander Shalaika and Enira Branitskaya were released as they have served their sentences. On September 15 Minsk city court heard cassation complaints of Mikola Astreika and Tsimafei Dranchuk. The judge did not find any grounds for changing the verdict.
On September 16 the verdict came into force. Pavel Seviarynets and Mikola Statkevich On May 31, 2005 Centralny court of Minsk made a verdict on criminal charges against Pavel Seviarynets (leader of Young Front) and Mikola Statkevich (leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Narodnaya Hramada”). The criminal proceedings were instigated after the events of October 18 and 19, 2004, when thousands of people came to October square to protest against the rigged results of the parliamentary elections and referendum prolonging the presidential power of Alexander Lukashenka.
Judge Leanid Yasenovich found Pavel Seviarynets and Mikola Statkevich guilty under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization of group actions violation the public order, or active participation in such actions). Both opposition activists were sentenced to 3 years of “restriction of freedom” (open type prison). Amnesty in honor of the 50th anniversary of victory in the World War II reduced their terms by 1 year. On June 28 Minsk city court heard their cassation complaint and upheld the previous verdict. Since August 16, 2005 Pavel Seviarynets has been serving his sentence in Malaye Sitna village, Vitebsk region. Mikola Statkevich was serving his sentence since July 29, 2005 in Baranavichy. Recently he has been transferred to Pukhavichy, Minsk region. Andrei Klimau On June 10, 2005 Centralny court found Andrei Klimau guilty of committing a crime under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization of group actions violation the public order, or active participation in such actions).
Judge Sviatlana Hanchar was sentenced to 18 months of “restriction of freedom” for organizing a protest action on March 25 demanding Lukashenka’s resignation. Andrei Klimau spent the pre-trial period from April 22 to June 10 in a Valadarka detention center. Every day in a detention center is scored up as 2 days of “restriction of freedom”. Taking that into account, he had to serve 15 months in an open type jail after the trial. On August 9, 2005 Minsk city court heard a cassation complaint sent by Klimau and his public defender Tatsiana Leanovich on June 14, 2005. The verdict was upheld. Andrei Klimau has served his sentence in Krupki village of Minsk district since September 22, 2005. In the run-up to the presidential elections (on February 17, 2006) He was transferred to penalty institution 22 in Barshcheuka village of Rechytsa district. Siarhei Skrebets Siarhei Skrebets, former MP and head of Respublika parliamentary group, was arrested on May 15, 2005.
He was charged with “preparing a crime” and “bribery’. In May 2003 criminal proceedings were instigated against Skrebets on suspicion of cheating out loans from the state and organizing a criminal group. On September 13, 2005 Siarhei Skrebets was charged with another crime -- illegal entrepreneur activities. On February 14, 2006 the Supreme Court of Belarus sentenced Skrebets to 2.5 years of imprisonment in a minimum security jail. The court found the former MP guilty of loan fraud. In the opinion of the judge, the charge of illegal entrepreneur activities lost validity because of time limitation (Siarhei Skrebets was accused of managing a commercial company while being an MP). The charge of preparing to bribery was considered unproved. Siarhei Skrebets protested against unfair accusations with numerous hunger-strikes.
The longest of them lasted for almost 40 days. Alexander Skrebets, brother of the opposition activist, was also found guilty of loan fraud and was put on probation for 1 year with a conditional sentence of 2 years of imprisonment. At present S. Skrebets is serving his sentence in a minimum security jail Vitsba (Vitebsk region) Artur Finkevich On May 10, 2006 Pershamaiski court of Minsk (Judge Viktoria Zaitsava) sentenced Artur Finkevich to 2 years of “restriction of freedom” (the so-called forced labor) for political graffiti. Youth activist Artur Finkevich was detained in Minsk on January 30, 2006.
He was accused of writing on a wall: “We want the new president!”, “Enough!”. During the 2 months of investigation his actions were classified as “malicious hooliganism” (Article 339 part 2 of the Criminal Code). Finkevich was kept in custody before the trial. Later, and quite unexpectedly, investigators attached expert evaluation of the damage made by Finkevich. According to estimates produced by the owner of the buildings, the size of the damage was 35, 196, 970 BRB (about 16,500 US dollars).
On the ground of that document, Finkevich was additionally charged under Article 218 part 3 of the Criminal Code (“intended destruction or damage of property resulting in substantial losses”). Charged with that crime, Finkevich faced from 7 up to 12 years of jail. However, on May 10, 2006, during the second court session, the charges of “intended damage to property” were dropped, because the size of damage had been reduced to 2, 207, 000 BRB (about 1, 030 US dollars). Since June 29, 2006 the youth leader has been serving his sentence in Mahilou open-type jail #43. Mikalai Razumau On June 16, 2006 Judge Tatsiana Rybakova found M. Razumau guilty under article 367 of the Criminal Code (slandering the president). The verdict was grounded on the witnesses’ testimony and a video from a meeting of Alexander Milinkevich with his voters which had been held on February 24.
Mikalai Razumau was sentenced to 3 years of “restriction of freedom”. At the meeting which gathered not less than 100 people, Mr. Razumau claimed Lukashenka had been involved in disappearances of Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Ganchar. Since March 14, 2006 Mikalai Razumau, one of Orsha workers’ leaders of the early nineties, has been kept in detention. Higher judicial instances considered his cassation complaint but upheld the verdict of Orsha court. Ivan Kruk In the run-up to the presidential election Astravets police (Hrodna region) searched the apartment of Ivan Kruk. The search was grounded on false accusation of Kruk’s son of robbery.
The policemen claimed they came to look for masks used for the robbery, but demonstrated much more interest to printed materials and personal computer of the apartment owner. In order to prevent seizure of computer equipment Ivan Kruk broke the system unit of his PC. After that he was charged under Article 364 of the Criminal Code – violence or threat of violence towards a police officer. On May 15, 2006 Lida district court judge Ihar Kashko sentenced the pro-democratic activist to 6 months of arrest. Besides that, Mr. Kruk is to pay 200 000 BRB to policeman Tataruk to compensate the moral damage. The next day after he was sentenced to 6 months of arrest he learned that the robbery charges against his 17-year-old son had been dropped. However, after Mr. Kruk filed a cassation complaint, the criminal case against his son was re-opened.
B) Individuals, convicted during the election period, who have served their terms, have been released on parole, etc. Enira Branitskaya and Alexander Shalaika On February 21, 2006 police arrested Tsimafei Dranchuk, Mikola Astreika, Enira Branitskaya, and Alexander Shalaika, members of Partnership, civic initiative for election observation. KGB agents searched the apartments of the activists and seized all information carrying media. Later KGB chief claimed they had been planning provocations during street actions on the Election Day of March 19. The Partnership activists were kept in a pre-trial detention center.
On March 2 the detained were indicted for violation of Article 193 part 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing or leading the activity of a non-governmental association or a religious organization, which infringes the personality, rights and obligations of citizens). On August 4 Centralny court of Minsk dropped the charges under Article 193 part 2. Judge Leanid Yasenovich found the Partnership members guilty under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of activity of a public association, or religious organization, or a foundation, or participation in their activity).
Enira Branitskaya and Alexander Shalaika were sentenced to 6 months of detention, Tsimafei Dranchuk – to 1 year of jail, and Mikola Astreika – to 2 years of jail. On August 21 Alexander Shalaika and Enira Branitskaya were released as they have served their sentences. Yauhen Suvorau Criminal charges against Zubr activist Yauhen Suvorau were brought under part 1 of Article 435 of the Criminal Code (evasion from military service). However, military commission had found him unfit for military service in peaceful time (because of eyesight problems) long before the incident. The pro-democratic activist has never hid from the authorities and has always come to the military committee on its subpoena.
On 14 February 2006 he was detained in Mahiliou for hanging a large banner with the call to take part in the Solidarity Day that is marked by various opposition actions on 16th day of each month. He was accused of violation of article 156 of the Code of Administrative Violations (petty hooliganism). However, the charge was only the ground for keeping him in custody. Later Yauhen Suvorau was charged with evasion from military service. Suvorau was kept in Mahiliou pre-trial detention center. At the trial over Yauhen Suvorau resulted in a fine of about 300 US dollars. Mikita Sasim Mikita Sasim, coordinator of Zubr youth movement, was detained by police on 14 March, 2006 and taken to a police station. There he became ill with appendicitis.
He was taken to hospital by ambulance, and his appendix was removed that night. After a week, he was moved to the pre-trial detention facility in Baranavichy. The police interrogated him as a suspect of alleged draft evasion. That was the second time when Mikita Sasim was persecuted for alleged raft evasion. The first time, on December 5, 2005, Baranavichy police refused to instigate criminal proceedings against the youth activist, because they failed to find any objective data which would prove that Mikita was resisting the draft. Mikita spent 2 months in custody awaiting the trial.
On 12 May 2006 Baranavichy court sentenced him to 3 months of arrest. On June 16 he was released. Yury Radzivil Yury Radzivil, driver of presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin, was detained by people in plain clothes on March 2, 2006 near Kastrychnitski police station. Alexander Kazulin who had been arrested earlier for trying to register as a delegate to All-Belarusian Assembly was in the police station. People in Radzivil’s car were filming mass detention of activists who came to support Kazulin. His car was fired at by officers of the special anti-terrorist police department “Almaz” (Almaz commander, Colonel Mikalai Karpenkou, in particular).
Yury Radzivil filed an appeal to Minsk prosecutor N. Kulik requesting to instigate criminal proceedings against people in plain clothes who used fire-arms against him. However, the prosecutor failed to examine the details of the case and gave his consent to commence prosecution against the victim. Yury Radzivil was charged with “violence or threat of violence against a police officer” (part 2 of Article 364 of the Criminal Code). He was put to a Minsk pre-trial detention center. On May 18, 2006 Maskouski court of Minsk sentenced Kazulin’s driver to 3 months of arrest. On June 2, 2006 Yury Radzivil was released because of the end of his prison term. Zmitser Kaspiarovich Activist of the BPF Party Zmitser Kaspiarovich was detained on the night of 17 - 18 December 2006 on suspicion of “abuse of state symbols”.
Later Kaspiarovich was indicted for hooliganism (part 1 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code). On 27 February Minsk Maskouski Court (Judge Tatsiana Vnukevich) sentenced Zmitser Kaspiarovich to five months of jail. Zmitser Kaspiarovich served his term in Zhodzina jail. On April 28, 2006 he was released on parole. Zmitser Zubro, Alexander Kazakou Zubr activists Alexander Kazakou and Zmitser Zubro were detained on the night of 28 December 2005 for political graffiti. (They wrote number ’’16’’ calling citizens to join the campaign of Solidarity with political prisoners carried out in Belarus on the 16th day of each month). The young people spent over 48 hours in a temporary detention center and then were released until the trial.
The Zubr activists were indicted for resistance to police (part 2 of article 363 of the Criminal Code). On 7 April 2006 Judge of Minsk Centralny Court Valery Yesman sentenced the activists to two years of “restriction of freedom”. However, they did not arrive to the penal institutions to serve their terms. Most likely, the youth activists managed to leave the country. Siarhei Liashkevich On 2 March 2006 Shchuchyn police searched the apartments of Siarhei Liashkevich and other activists of the headquarters of Alexander Milinkevich, the single presidential candidate of the Democratic Forces. The police seized all electronic information carriers, some printed editions and documents from personal archives. Siarhei Liashkevich was detained on March 2.
Two days later he was released, but on March 14 he was arrested again. He was kept in custody for almost 3 months before the trial. At first Liashkevich was accused of “terrorism”. Then he was indicted for ‘training or other preparation activities for participation in mass riots, as well as financing or other material provision for such activities’ (part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code). The police referred to alleged Election Day mass riots planned for March 19. Article 293 was initiated by Belarusian KGB and provides for up to 3 years of imprisonment. On 29 May Shchuchyn district court sentenced Siarhei Liashkevich, 28, to 5 months of arrest.
On July 27 the local pro-democratic leader was released from Hlybokaye jail. Criminal Persecution of Leaders of Young Front, Unregistered Youth Organization In March 2006 KGB department for fighting terrorism and organized crime instigated criminal proceedings against 4 activists of Young Front – Zmitser Dashkevich, Aleh Korban, Barys Haretski, and Siarhei Lisichonak. They are charged with violation of Article 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).
On March 27 KGB searched the apartments of several Young Front activists. KGB investigators were primarily interested in printed materials and electronic information carriers which could be related to activities of Young Front. Police interrogated dozens of youth activists all over the country. The authorities applied psychological pressure on the leaders of the unregistered organization. In late May – early June young people in many cities of Belarus protested against criminal prosecution of Young Front leaders by a hunger-strike. However, it was completely ignored by the authorities. On June 19 the activists stopped the hunger-strike due to poor health state of some participants. In early September the police intensified investigation into the case. The police searched the apartment of Zmitser Khvedaruk. On September 13 the prosecutor’s office interrogated Pavel Seviarynets who is serving his sentence in an open-type jail in Vitebsk region. On September 15 Zmitser Dashkevich, co-chairperson of Young Front, was summoned to the Prosecutor’s office for interrogation. During the interrogation he was detained and put into Valadarka detention center. At present he is still in custody.
C) Criminal proceedings instigated during the election period and stopped for lack of corpus delicti. Pavel Krasouski In January 2006 Zhodzina police charged youth activist Pavel Krasouski with public insult of officials on duty (Article 369 of the Criminal Code).
Pavel Krasouski, member of Young Front, was accused of publishing satirical cartoons depicting the city's officials in Naziralnik newsletter that he edited. Later the criminal charges were dropped. Anastasia Azarka The criminal proceedings were instigated on 5 March 2006 by police of Minsk region under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of activity of a non-governmental association, religious organization or foundation or participation in their activity). She was suspected in acting on behalf of the unregistered organization Young Front and participation in distribution of printed materials calling ‘to fight against the present constitutional order and authorities'. The charges were dropped.
Tatsiana Protska On 1 March 2006 the Department for financial investigation of the State Control Committee resumed the criminal case against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The BHC leadership was accused of tax evasion. According to the information of the tax police, BHC chair Tatsiana Protska was suspected of failure to pay 70, 000 US dollars of taxes. The case was brought under part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (evasion from payment of dues and taxes). That article of the Criminal Code provides for 2-7 years of jail and seizure of property as a penalty. More than a year ago the tax inspection office decided that BHC was to pay taxes for the financial aid it received in the framework of TACIS program of the European Union. TACIS rendered that kind of support to Belarusian organizations on the condition of complete exemption from taxes. At first the Supreme Economic Court took the side of the human rights activists, but in early 2006 it annulled its decision. On March 28 the criminal charges were dropped ‘in conjunction with the fact that actions of T. Protska are not socially dangerous’. Andrei Panasik Criminal charges against Andrei Panasik, pro-democratic activist from the town of Masty, were brought on 11 March 2006. He was indicted for illegal organization of activity of a non-governmental association, religious organization or foundation or participation in their activity (Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code). He was suspected of participation in the activity of the unregistered civic initiative Partnership. The criminal charges were dropped.
Uladzimir Khomich and Maksim Kokarau On 2 March it became known that Niasvizh police pressed criminal charges against two activists of Young Front for political graffiti. Uladzimir Khomich and Maksim Kokarau were charged with defilement of buildings and damaging property (Article 341 of the Criminal Code). Later the police dropped the charges. Yulia Kasper On February 20, 2006 Leninski prosecutor’s office of Hrodna pressed criminal charges against pro-democratic activist Yulia Kasper. She was indicted for alleged forgery of signatures in support of Alexander Kazulin. On June 1 the charges were dropped.