Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus, December 2006
In December the Belarusian authorities prepared to the election to local deputy soviets that is appointed on 14 January 2007. That’s why numerous violations of electoral rights took place. These violations concerned the formation of election commissions and registration of candidates.
For instance, according to the official information, the total number of polling station election commissions is 70 877 persons. Only 113 of them represent political parties. Only 1 person represents an oppositional party, the United Civil Party.
Many candidates to deputy seats who were nominated by the opposition weren’t registered for formal and wire-drawn reasons. The authorities also pressurized members of the initiative groups of such candidates to make them leave the initiative groups.
On 14 December the registration of candidates ended and on 15 December there started the agitation campaign. Many representatives of democratic movement couldn’t get registered as candidates to local deputy soviets. Despite numerous complaints about violations of election laws that were submitted to election commissions of all levels on 27 December Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, stated that neither candidates nor the CEC had any pretensions to the electoral process. It’s worth saying that Vitsebsk regional election commission alone received 37 complaints against decisions of inferior election commissions. These commissions didn’t register 118 candidates for violations of the election code. 29 of them were members of different parties. Till 21 December the commission considered 27 complaints. In 17 cases it upheld the rulings of the inferior commissions and in 8 refused to consider the complaints because of the violation of the terms for complaining. In 2 cases complaints against non-registration were satisfied. As a result Vitsebsk regional court received 17 complaints against rulings of Vitsebsk regional election commission.
In autumn the parliament adopted amendments to the Election Code according to which elections to local deputy soviets were limited to one vote (a candidate wins after getting a relative majority of votes, whereas earlier it was necessary to gain 50% + 1 vote). At first this step was explained with the wish to decrease the financial expenses, but later in the CEC secretary said in an interview that it would allow shortening of the period of social and political tensions that is associated with elections. Another amendment is that from now on all agitation materials are to be produced on the territory of Belarus which allegedly must ease the control of the means that are issued for agitation from the state budget. According to the CEC that the sum that is issued for agitation depends on the level of the soviet for which a candidate runs. Candidates to Minsk city deputy soviet and regional deputy soviets get about 116 US dollars and those running to city and district deputy soviets – about 58 dollars. It is prohibited to use one’s private means for agitation as well as means provided by any sponsors. Violation of these regulations leads to exclusion of a candidate from the election race.
As a result it became problematic for oppositional candidates to get their fly-sheets printed. In Belarus private and state printing houses often refuse to do it referring to overload, lack of paper, absence of agreement of executive committees, etc. In some of them the candidates were openly told that after printing their fly-sheets they would have much trouble with tax inspections.
One more amendment concerns the order for organization of meetings with the electorate. From now on such meetings fall under the law On mass actions and therefore require authorization from local authorities. The candidates’ applications for them are considered within three-days’ term.
All in all, the campaign on elections to local deputy soviets takes place in the conditions of informational vacuum. On 18 December the Belarusian Association of Journalists presented the results of the media monitoring Elucidation of the local election of 2007 in Belarusian media. According to the project coordinator Ales Antsipenka on 4-16 December, during the registration of candidates, neither state nor private media paid much attention to the election campaign.
Due to all these facts at its assembly of 2 December the Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB) recommended its candidates to cease their participation in the election. ‘First of all, recently Lukashenka state about rigging of the presidential election. Secondly, no members of political parties were included in election commissions. The authorities behave the same way. It is a farce and we can’t let ourselves take part in a cheat of our electors,’ commented on this step the PCB leader Siarhei Kaliakin. Many oppositional candidates refused from struggle for deputy seats and revoked their candidacies thus yielding to non-alternative election.
In December the attention of the international community was turned at a long-term hunger-strike of the political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin which led to a rapid deterioration of his health. On 6 December the leaders of the Belarusian democratic movement filed a joint Appeal to the UN Human Rights Council and the countries that head the UN Security Council (USA, Russia, France and the UK) with the request to consider the question of gross human rights violations in Belarus. In this appeal the political council of the united democratic forces described the political repressions including the imprisonment of the former candidate to the presidential position Aliaksandr Kazulin.
On 20 December the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the new International convent for protection of all persons from forced disappearances. The document emphasizes that in certain cases forced disappearances can be considered as a crime against humanity and thus fall under the international criminal jurisdiction. The leaders of the Belarusian opposition Viktar Hanchar and Iury Zakharanka, businessman Anatol Krasouski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski disappeared in 1999-2000 and are still missing. The persons who are guilty of their kidnap remain unpunished. The international community suspects the top-rank state officials of Belarus in relation to these disappearances.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 11 December the leader of the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Hramada) Aliaksandr Kazulin started his recovery after the hunger-strike he had maintained since 20 October.
On 22 December the international human rights organization Amnesty International distributed a public statement the Aliaksandr Kazulin is a prisoner of conscience and his imprisonment is a violation of the rights to association, assembly and opinion. The organization also addressed the Belarusian authorities and urged them to immediately release Kazulin, hold an all-sided and unbiased investigation of the violent treatment that was given to him by officials and guarantee his complete rehabilitation.
On 15 December the college board of Minsk city court left in force the sentence to the political prisoner Dzmitry Dashkevich who was sentenced to 1,5 years of jail for heading the unregistered organization Young Front. The youth leader was taken to the penal colony in Shklou yet before consideration of the cassation complaint by the court, which is a process violation.
On 22 December Minsk city court considered the cassation complaint on the criminal case against the Belarusian human rights activist Katsiaryna Sadouskaia and also left the sentence unchanged, ignoring the fact that this 60-year-old woman was recovering after an oncological operation, was ill with diabetes and had to take care after her disabled husband and paralyzed mother. We should remind that Mrs. Sadouskaia was sentenced to two years of jail for ‘insult of president’ (article 368 part 2 of the Criminal Code), ‘threat to judge or associate judge’ (article 389) and ‘insult of judge or associate judge (article 391). At present she is kept in Homel jail.
On 30 December the political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets turned 30. Despite the preliminary agreement the administration of the jail where he spends his term cancelled his meeting with relatives that was appointed on this day. The reasons were not explained.
On 3 December Alesia Iasiuk, 46 years old, an activist of the democratic movement, was detained in Minsk for distribution of Jeans – For Freedom! stickers and taken to a police station. Having composed a violation report and taken her fingerprints the police major I. Falei beat hear. The woman went to a forensic expertise and registered the beating. Then she filed a complaint against the lawless actions of the policemen with the prosecutor’s office. She demands a criminal case be brought against him.
- Persecution of public and political activists
On 18 December in Baranavichy the police searched the flat of Viktar Syrutsa, chair of Baranavichy city branch of Frantsishak Skaryna Belarusian Language Society. The search was sanctioned by a deputy prosecutor of Baranavichy. The police were allegedly looking for a stolen handbag, but instead of it exacted from the activist two computer system blocks, all discs and diskettes, the branch seal, all literary editions that were related to the organization and the election to local deputy soviets, For Freedom! badges and Aliaksandr Milinkevich’s appeal to the people. Besides, they allegedly found there 20 ball-cartridges.
On 22 December Viktar Syrytsa applied to Baranavichy prosecutor asking to conduct a check-up on numerous process violations that took place during the search and apply the appropriate measures of prosecutorial reaction.
It’s worth mentioning that a year ago Viktar Syrytsa was fired from Baranavichy Higher Economic-Juridical College for organization of a meeting of Aliaksandr Milinkevich with students.
- Right to association
The Ministry of Justice refused to register the public association of Belarusian pensioners Stareishyny, the creation of which was announced in 2005. The ministry stated two official reasons for non-registration: the association founders didn’t present to the ministry the minutes of the sitting of the association’s initiative group on holding the constituent assembly and some of the assembly delegates were absent at regional assemblies. The organizational committee of the association considers these pretensions groundless and has already sued the ministry.
The Ministry of Architecture and Building didn’t prolong the rent agreement with the educational public association Leu Sapeha Fund. As said by the fund’s lawyer Andrei Zavadski, as a result of this step the organization can lose its legal address and will be liquidated. ‘We suppose that such pressurization of our organization is connected to the upcoming election to local deputy soviets and the wish of the authorities to eradicate rudiments of civil society in Belarus. During all election campaigns the authorities pressurize the ‘third sector’ because members of public associations have the right to monitor elections. We nominated our observers to all elections, which is unpleasant for the authorities,’ he commented.
Homel regional branch of the Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB) received a letter from the Belarusian river steamship line. The enterprise demands that the party branch leaves the cellar of a hostel that serves as an office. The party decided to collect signatures under an appeal to Aliaksandr Lukashenka. According to the first secretary of the Party of Communists of Belarus Uladzimir Siakerka the PCB plans to collect about 1 000 signatures. They have no hope for the president’s reaction, but try to draw public attention with this action.
The World Alliance of Belarusians Batskawshchyna is under the threat of liquidation because of the breach of the rent agreement as the result of which the organization has been deprived of legal address. ‘By their rulings the Soviet of Ministers of Belarus and Minsk city executive committee granted the World Alliance of Belarusians Batskawshchyna received the right of rent an office in the building in Revaliutsyinaia, 15 for 25 years (till 2018). These documents are still legally valid,’ stated Alena Markouskaia, chair of Batskawshchyna’s board.
This year the authorities decided to repair the building and therefore asked all renters to leave it for the period of restoration, which Batskawshchyna did on 7 August. However, no repairs were conducted and after Batskawshchyna left its office the landlord, Minskaia Spadchyna Company, decided to break the rent agreement. The organization is of the opinion that there are no legal grounds for it and therefore sued Minskaia Spadchyna.
- Persecution of human rights activists
On 5 December court marshals confiscated the property of the republican public association Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), executing the ruling of the presidium of the Supreme economic court in the case about taxation of the aid received by the organization on TACIS program. However, the decision of the SEC presidium contradicts to another process document, decision of an investigator of the financial investigation department of the State control committee to stop the criminal case against the organization and thus confirm the tax exemption.
- Administrative detentions and punishments
On 10 December, the International Day of Human Rights, a peaceful action of solidarity with the fasting prisoner of conscience Aliaksandr Kazulin took place. The action was severely dispersed by the police, more than 20 persons being detained and taken to Minsk Tsentralny borough police department. Five of the detainees, including the head of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka, were charged with violation of article 156 of the Administrative Code, petty hooliganism. On 11 December Minsk Tsentralny borough court conducted four closed trials, as a result of which Aleh Korban and Zmitser Khvedaruk were sentenced to 15 days of jail, Uladzimir Siarheieu – to 3 days and Aliaksandr Iulieu was fined about 29 US dollars. On 12 December Minsk Savetski borough court considered Anatol Liabedzka’s case and returned it to police for revision.
In the evening of 22 December in the flat of Aliaksandr Mikhalevich, deputy chair of the Belarusian People’s Front, members of the Belarusian Student Association held a Christmas concert with participation of well-known musicians. The concert was interrupted by riot police. All of those who were in the flat were detained and taken to Minsk Savetski borough police department. On finding about it Ales Mikhalevich also came to the police department. There he and a BSA member Vasil Lepesh were charged with violation of article 156 of the Administrative Code and driven to the detention center in Akrestsin Street. The rest were let go. On 26 December Minsk Savetski borough court sentenced Vasil Lepesh and Ales Mikhalevich to 5 days of jail.
On 8 December the prime-minister Siarhei Sidorski came to Vitsebsk and a well-known opposition activist and newspaper distributor Barys Khamaida was detained. The police drew on him a report with charges under article 148 of the Administrative Code, trading in a wrong place. Then Mr. Khamaida was taken to a court and fined about 7 US dollars. Nevertheless, in the court he stated he would again stand where he usually did because people need free information.
It’s worth mentioning that Mr. Khamaida has been detained and charged with violation of article 148 more than 10 times already and during the official celebration Slavonic bazaar in Vitsebsk he was even imprisoned for two days.
- Liberty of speech and the right to distribute information
The Belarusian enterprises are forced to subscribe to the state newspapers Sovetskaya Belorussiya, Zviazda, Narodnaia Hazeta, Znamya Yunosti, Vecherniy Minsk, Minskiy kurier, Respublika and the magazines Planeta and Ekonomika Belarusi. It is also recommended to them to organize not only departmental subscription, but also individual subscription among workers.
- Politically motivated firings
On 28 December the administration of Minsk gear wheel plant fired a Young Front activist and a registered candidate to Minsk city deputy soviet Aleh Korban. The reason for the firing became the 15-days’ imprisonment for participation in an unauthorized action of solidarity with Aliaksandr Kazulin.
- Freedom of conscience
On 1 December in Hrodna a catholic parish with priest Aliaksandr Shemet at the head started a hunger-strike with the aim to receive from the authorities a written permission for building a Catholic church. The majority of the hunger-strike participants were women, 39 to 79 years old. They motivated their decision with the fact that the parish that has more than 8 000 parishioners couldn’t receive permission for building a church for more than 9 years. At present the people have only two small chapels that can’t house all of them. As a result of the action the official mass media of Hrodna started accusing priest Shemet of fomenting a political scandal.
- Manifestations of national and religious enmity and intolerance
The Israeli Embassy has applied to the Minister of Interior, the Prosecutor General and the chair of the Belarusian KGB in connection with two anti-Semitic acts of vandalism committed in Minsk and asked to review the decision not to bring a criminal case for fomenting national enmity. We should remind that swastikas and slogans ‘Beat the Jews!’ were painted on the faзade of Israeli informational and cultural center.
‘It seems quite strange to us that in Belarus there are state officials and workers of the law machinery who consider such inscriptions as “Beat Jews!’ as simple smearing of the walls, not as fomenting of national enmity and humiliation of national honor and dignity… Bringing a criminal case on this fact will show that anti-Semitic acts that spoil the reputation of Belarus can’t stay unpunished’, stated the Ambassador of the Israel.