Review of Human Rights Violations in Belarus, November 2006
On 22 November the third committee of the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on human rights violations in Belarus. The main authors of the resolution are Canada, the EU and the US. 70 states voted for the resolution, 31 – against, and 67 abstained. In the resolution draft it is said that the practice of discrimination and criminal prosecution of oppositionists, human rights activists, journalists and members of NGOs is expanding in Belarus. The document also voices concern over the serious violations during the presidential election of 19 March 2006.
In November in Belarus there continued massive hunger-strike. Hunger-strike can have dramatic consequences for human body and thus is an extreme for of struggle against the strengthening of the repressive mechanism. It is an act of desperation which is more and more often used in Belarus nowadays despite the existing informational vacuum and total suppression of all forms of protest. In our country this means of non-violent struggle is used by the protesting individuals to attract public attention.
On 20 November the political prisoners Aliaksandr Kazulin and Siarhei Skrabets went on hunger-strike in the penal colony Vitsba-3. On 30 November Hanna Kanius, the chair of Brest city organization of Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), started the action Hunger-strike of solidarity with Aliaksandr Kazulin. This hunger-strike was supported by other members of BSDP and other parties and non-partisans. The action organizers recommended the participants to hunger for 1-5 days. ‘It is important that the chain doesn’t break’, said the chair of Brest regional BSDP organization Ihar Maslouski. ‘Thus the action can continue till Aliaksandr Kazulin hungers’.
On 27 November Iryna Kazulina called on the world community to save her husband who dares to resist to the dictatorial regime. On 25 November, A.Kazulin’s birthday, the colony administration permitted to him a 15-minute meeting with wife and daughter. It was hard for them to recognize him – he lost almost 30 kilos. Now they are seriously concerned about his health. ‘Say NO to the Belarusian dictator Lukashenka! Help to release political prisoners! Save my husband!’, asked Iryna Kazulina.
Activists of the primary organization of Belarusian independent trade union at the open company Belshyna (Belarusian Tire) held a hunger-strike to protest against their discrimination for membership in the trade union. 54-year-old Alena Zakhozhaia, deputy chair of the BITU trade-union, started the hunger-strike on 3 October and maintained it for 43 days. She demanded from the Belshyna administration to register the primary BITU organization at the enterprise. However, the administration refused to provide legal address to it. Besides, BITU members weren’t paid wage bonuses and additional payments for health recovery. Other BITU activists joined the action, but stopped it after partial execution of their demands. Alena Zakhozhaia finished the hunger-strike on 14 November, after her 33-year-old son was beaten by unidentified persons. She is sure that the beating is related to the hunger0strike. During the hunger-strike she continued working at the factory. Several times she felt bad and was taken to hospital.
In November there took place numerous cases of violation of one of the basic civil and political rights, the right to participate in the electoral process: election committees refused to register initiative groups of democratic candidates to the local elections. Besides, the authorities morally pressurized members of the initiative group with the aim to abstain from participation. After members of the initiative groups wrote applications that they were included into these groups without their prior consent the initiative groups weren’t registered.
- Persecution of political leaders and public activists
Hrodna regional customs office brought a criminal case for smuggling drugs. On 29 October at the Lithuanian border the customs officers detained the car of the member of the officially unrecognized Union of Poles in Belarus Andzhei Lisouski, who drove back home Anzhalika Borys (UPB chair). In the car they found a small packet with powder that was later identified as amphetamine. The UPB activists called it a provocation of the Belarusian law machinery with the aim to discredit the organization and stated they had nothing to do with this packet. On 4 November the Main council of the UPB adopted a note of protest against violations of the rights of Polish minority and persecution of the organization members.
On 5 November in Kyiv (Ukraine) the electoral meeting of representatives of regional democratic coalitions of Belarus took place. The Belarusian police prevented a number of activists from arriving to the meeting. For instance, on 3 November at the railway station of Mahiliou they detained the chair of Mahiliou regional organization of the Belarusian People’s Front Ryhor Kostuseu, on 4 November at the railway station of Brest – the chair of Brest regional organization of the United Civil Party Stsiapan Navaselchan, in Asipovichy – the UCP activist Uladzimir Belakhvostau. The traffic police of Dobrusk district police department detained the car of the chair of Zhlobin district organization of the Party of Communists of Belarus Valery Rybchanka inside of which there were also the party activists Uladzimir Siakerka, Sviatlana Mikhalchanka and Viktar Paulau. As a result they had to leave the car, but managed to get to Kyiv.
- Persecution of human rights activists
On 1 November the judge of Minsk city economic court Sviatlana Mishchuk ruled to confiscate a part of property of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee for compensation of 160 million rubles fine and tax debts. The human rights organization is accused of non-payment of taxes from the financial aid that was received on TACIS program. Besides, according to the BHC executive director Aleh Hulak, the Supreme Court resumed the suspended case about suspension of the organization’s activity.
In the evening of 16 November the chair of Mahiliou Human Rights Center Uladzimir Krauchanka and some other activists had a meeting with two Czech citizens in Krauchanka’s house. They discussed the possibility of cooperation between civil initiatives in the field of ecology. 30 minutes after the beginning of the meeting unknown persons wearing symbols of Mahiliou state TV studio entered the house and started video-shooting without any permission. Thus they violated the international and national legal norms. Uladzimir Krauchanka filed a complaint with Mahiliou regional prosecutor’s office.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 1 November the trial of the leader of the unregistered youth organization Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich ended. Mr Dashkevich was detained on 15 November and since that kept in the investigative isolator in Minsk. The judge of Minsk Kastrychnitski borough court Ala Bulash found him guilty of violation of article 193-1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 1,5 years of jail. The state accuser, prosecutor Barouski demanded 2 years, which is the maximal term provided by this article. The trial was closed. During reading of the verdict Zmitser’s father, journalists and diplomats were let in. Amnesty International confessed Zmitser Dashkevich a prisoner of conscience and started an action of support to him: AI members from all parts of the world will send to him letters and postcards. Other actions are planned as well.
The chair of Vitsba-3 colony prohibited to the lawyer Ihar Rynkevich to meet with his client, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Aliaksandr Kazulin. According to the lawyer, such action is a violation of article 62 of the Constitution, the norms of the Criminal Process Code and the internal regulations of the penitentiary institution, which don’t permit limiting meetings with lawyers aimed at giving legal aid to their clients.
On 15 November, after 1,5 years of jail the political prisoner Siarhei Skrabets was released from the penal colony Vitsba-3. In February 2005 he was sentenced to 2,5 years of jail for defraud of credits from the state. After an amnesty his prison term decreased by one year. During the imprisonment he kept numerous hunger-strikes and lost 30 kilos, 17 of them – during the last one, the hunger-strike of solidarity with Aliaksandr Kazulin.
On 17 November the leader of the election monitoring initiative Partnership Mikalai Astreika was released from Shklou ferule prison. He spent there 1/3 of his term and had the legal right for easing of the punishment. For him prison was replaced with corrective labor at the place of residence.
The administration of the penal colony where the Parnership member Tsimafei Dranchuk is kept, didn’t present any document for his early release. At present Mr Dranchuk is the only of the four judged Partnership members who is still kept in jail.
On 30 November the chair of Minsk city court M.Ardziaka turned up the review complaint of Kazulin’s lawyers in which they asked to set aside the sentence to him because of the absence of corpus delicti in his actions. Now the defense and Aliaksandr Kazulin intend to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.
- Absence of independent judiciary
On 4 November the judge of Svetlahorsk district court Natallia Bialoichuk sentenced the former judge Siarhei Iarashevich to two years of corrective labor with exaction of 20% of the wage in favor of the state. The reason for the criminal prosecution of Mr Iarashevich became his not in the complaint book of Rahachou town court, in which he compared Rahachou judges with those who worked in 1937 and followed the principle ‘if there’s a man one can find an applicable article’.
Siarhei Iarashevich intends to appeal the verdict to a higher court instance. He is of the opinion that complaint books are to provide people with the opportunity to express their opinion about the way the officials treat them.
- Detentions, arrests and fines to public and political activists
On 1 November in Minsk 12 persons were detained at the action at which they demanded to release the Young Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich. The youth activists came out to Kastrychnitskaia Square with his portraits in their hands. This peaceful action was violently dispersed by riot squad police. Then they were driven to Minsk Tsentralny borough department of internal affairs in a car with dark windows. On the way they were kicked with feet. One of the policemen hit the activist Aliaksandr Ianachka in the face. After identification 10 persons were released. Reports on article 156 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism) were composed on Zmitser Fedaruk and Hleb Sandras. The detainees had to spend the night at the detention center of the Main department of internal affairs of Minsk city executive committee. The following day Minsk Tsentralny borough court sentenced Zmitser Fedaruk to three days of jail and Hleb Sandras – to 62 000 rubles fine (about $ 25).
On 15 November Brest Maskouski borough court considered the administrative cases against the youth activists Katsiaryna Belskaia, Hanna Bersan, Iury Boubel, Anatol Iarmak and Andrei Sharenda. The cases were brought under article 167-1 part 1 of the Administrative Code and concerned their participation in the Solidarity Day rally. All of them were fined:
Katsiaryna Belskaia – 620 000 rubles
Hanna Bersan – 620 000
Iury Boubel – 620 000
Anatol Iarmak – 930 000
Andrei Sharenda – 1 550 000.
On 16 November, a Solidarity Day, the police detained the public activist Stas Pachobut and accused him in petty hooliganism. On 17 November the judge Zmitser Matseiuk held a closed trial and sentenced Mr Pachobut to 15 days of jail without even interrogating his witnesses.
On 25 November in Vitsebsk during an action of solidarity with Aliaksandr Kazulin the BSDP (Hramada) activist Aliaksandr Abramovich held in his hands Kazulin’s portrait and chanted: ‘Freedom to Kazulin! Freedom to all political prisoners! Imprison Lukashenka!’ The police detained Mr Abramovich and qualified his actions as unauthorized meeting. On 28 November the judge Mikhail Zubenia sentenced him to 15 days of arrest.
- Limitation of access of representatives of the international community to Belarus
The Belarusian authorities refused to issue visas to the Bundestag deputies and the members of the working group of the Euro-parliament who intended to take part in the IXth Minsk forum that took place on 9-12 November. The motivated the refusal by solely bilateral Belarusian-German format of the conference ‘without participation of the European component’.
- Liberty of speech and the right to distribute information
The leading republican and regional non-state political newspapers weren’t included in the subscription catalog of the state monopolist Belposhta (Belarusian Post) for the first half of 2007.
On 8 November the judge of the Supreme economic court N.Madulin turned up the suit of the Arche magazine to the Ministry of Information. The editorial office tried to appeal the order of the Ministry of Information, dated September 2006, to suspend the magazine issue for 3 months because of alleged change of its subjects without information the ministry. At the court the defense stated that the legislation didn’t contain such notions as ‘change of the elucidated topics’. Nevertheless, the court took the side of the Ministry of Information.
On 16 November the Ministry of Justice warned Nasha niva newspaper for presenting incorrect information about its legal address. The ministry considers it as a violation of article 26 of the law On press and other mass media. However, in 2006 the editorial office had to change the address of its editorial office four times and, appropriately, change the legal address. That’s why the newspaper applied to the Lithuanian governments with the request to solicit for its introduction in the UNESCO list of non-materials cultural heritage. The journalists also asked the governments of other countries to support this initiative.
- Politically motivated firings
The Belarusian authorities pressurize the democratic activists who decided to run for deputy seats at local deputy soviets at the upcoming election. They threatened to expel from higher educational establishments the students who collected signatures for nomination of democratic candidates, some of signature collectors lost their jobs. Maksim Pleshchyk was fired from Skarynina Ltd. where he worked as a wrapper and Maksim Zaleski – from Planeta igr enterprise. According to the activists, in both cases the employers executed orders from the above.
The administration of the bus park #1 of Homel didn’t prolong the working contract to Andrei Baranau the chair of the primary organization of the Belarusian independent trade union of radio-electronic trade and a member of the Belarusian People’s Front. He became the first activist fired from bus park #1 after the deputy chair of the BITU primary unit Aliaksandr Iauseichuk and its member Siarhei Shvedau.
- Freedom of conscience
On 24 November more than 100 believers of the Catholic parish of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy came to Hrodna regional executive committee. The matter is that since 1997 they can’t obtain the official permission for building of the church. They decided to start a hunger-strike on 1 December unless they receive the permission.
- Manifestations of racial, national and religious enmity and intolerance
At night of 1 November unknown persons desecrated the building of Minsk church New life. They stained one of the walls with black paint, wrote there NBP (abbreviation of the unregistered Russian extremist organization National-Bolshevik Party) and ‘No to totalitarian sects’. The police refused to bring a criminal case on this fact.