Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in February 2007
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in February 2007
In February the authorities increased the pressurization of activists, especially young ones. It is connected with the forthcoming anniversary of the presidential election 2006 and the possible protest actions dedicated to it. The craving for total control resulted in mass detentions of democratic activists, searches, intimidations and forcing to collaboration with KGB. The activists of the Young Front and the Belarusian Student Association were illegally detained for several hours, Lviv-Minsk bus with participants of different youth organizations returning from a seminar was detained on the Ukrainian border for 11 hours. In the night of 27-28 February KGB and police confiscated from a private hangar in Minsk 200 000 leaflets with information about a peaceful action on 25 March and the text of the proposal of the European Union to Belarus. A criminal case under article 193.1, activity on behalf of unregistered organization, was brought against the leaders of the Young Front Zmitser Khvedaruk and Aleh Korban. Half a year ago Zmitser Dashkevich has been sentenced to 1,5 years of jail under the same article. In Homel the police arrested 27-year-old member of the United Civil Party Dzianis Dzianisau, participant of the spring 2006 protest camp against the rigged election, and took him to Vitsebsk. He is suspected in relation to a protest action held by an unregistered organization Bunt half a year ago. A criminal case under article #342 of the Criminal Code, organization of or active participation in group actions violating the public order’. A lawyer was admitted to Dzianisau only on the 14th day of detention, though the present legislation provides admission a lawyer 24 hours after arrest. Besides, during these 14 days Mr. Dzianisau was kept in the isolator without receiving any charges, which rudely contradicts to the process norms, according to which it must be done not later than 3 days after the detention. Despite Dzianis’ illness, Vitsebsk investigative isolator refused to accept the medicines that were passed by his mother.
In Minsk and many other cities of Belarus the authorities banned peaceful actions on St. Valentine’s Day, 14 February. In Minsk the reason was that the applicants didn’t specify in the application the places of their work. Besides, they received telephone calls inviting them to come to the police, but refused to do it without official summons. ‘Demagogically speculating on the possibility of negotiations with the EU countries and setting the relations with them the Belarusian authorities continue large-scale repressions against the public activists of Belarus, thus voiding any possibility of such negotiations’, runs a statement of HRC Viasna issued in connection with a new wave of politically motivated pressurization related to peaceful actions of youth.
The craving for control of all spheres of the civil society led to a decision that was voiced on 1 February, at a press-conference of the regular commission of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on education, culture and scientific-technical progress: from now on the rectors of private high schools are to be appointed by the Minister of Education. Before this such powers belonged to the founders. The char of the commission Uladzimir Zdanovich assured that such decision violated neither the codes, including the Labor Code. At present Belarus has 12 private high schools, 58 000 students are educated there.
The situation of the Belarusian small entrepreneurs is deteriorating thanks to presidential decree #760 of 29 December 2006. The authorities purposefully try to decrease the number of individual entrepreneurs. That’s why in February the entrepreneurs started preparation to different actions of protest. The first of them is a meeting for defense of the economical rights of the individual entrepreneurs is to take place on 12 March in Minsk. An appropriate application has been already submitted to Minsk city executive committee. 1-day warning strike of entrepreneurs is scheduled for 25 March. It is defined by the intention of entrepreneurs to claim not only economical rights, but also the liberty of word, the freedom of mass media and the right to association. Another political claim is liberation of political prisoners and cessation of political harassment. On 25 March entrepreneurs plan to hold actions in different regions of Belarus. They have also started collecting signatures for abolishment of the discriminative provisions of decree #760.
On 24 February the ruling On certain issues of adoption and tutelage of children. Now only the children who have been introduced into a special orphanage bank (about 12 000) have a chance to be adopted. According to a deputy Minister of Education only the children who have been in the orphanage bank for at least a year can be adopted by citizens of the foreign countries who have concluded appropriate agreements with Belarus. Such agreement has been already concluded only with Italy. Since 2005 the country actually has a moratorium for international adoption, which deprives children with chronic illnesses or disabilities of the chance to be adopted, as Belarusian families usually are eager to adopt only healthy ones. Last year foreigners adopted only 37 children from Belarus. The Belarusian authorities introduced harder rules for foreigners after a recent scandal related to the adoption of an orphan Vika Maroz who was educated at Vileika orphan asylum.
On 27 February the US Ministry of Finances enforced economic sanctions against another six high Belarusian officials who ‘play an important role in the despotic regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’. In June such sanctions was adopted against the president and nine more officials. This time the list was complemented with prosecutor general Piatro Miklashevich, head of the riot police regiment Iury Padabed, education minister Aliaksandr Radzkou, information minister Uladzimir Rusakevich, former interior minister Iury Sivakou and the chair of the public associations department of the Ministry of Justice Aleh Slizheuski. By its ruling of the Ministry of Finances of the USA prohibits American citizens to сlose bargains and make business with the enumerated officials and freezes all their assets under the US jurisdiction.
- Right to life
As said by the chair of the Supreme Court Valiantsin Sukala at a press-conference dedicated to the results of the activity of the courts of general jurisdiction in Belarus in 2006 death sentences were issued to 9 persons. In 2005 there were issued 2 death sentences. Sukala stated that the growth of the number of death and life sentences in 2006 was determined by consideration of a number of complicated cases against gangs with the number of the accused up to 48 persons. Among the most unique cases he called the case of Marozau’s gang, accused of serial members. ‘This case had no analogs in the number of the questioned persons and the volume of the collected materials and became a real challenge for the Belarusian court system’, said the chair of the Supreme Court.
- Prisoners’ rights
What is going on in penal institutions is closed information. Prisoners’ relatives receive only a little part of information about tortures. However, even then it is known that in December a prisoner of IK-1 in Kalvaryiskaia Street in Minsk Iudzinski attempted a suicide and on 22 September 2006 a man hung himself in the penal isolator of this colony.
A citizen of Mazyr Halina Pilchanka states that her son, Pavel Pilchanka, a police officer, is spending a prison term at IK-1 colony. There people make furniture in two shifts with no days off. After Pavel refused to work on a holiday he was taken to a penal isolator for 14 days. It was December, there was no heating in the isolator and the window was broken. The guards took away his socks. As a result he got his feet frost-bitten. The feet got swollen and ached. The prison doctor prescribed intravenous injections, ointment, ascorbic acid and other medicines. The head of the medical department let the mother pass a parcel with medicines to her son. Nevertheless, the parcel was returned. Then Halina Pilchanka sent a telegram to the Ministry of Health Care, but an answer came from the Department of punishment execution. It was said that Pavel Pilchanka had already received medical aid.
Halina Pilchanka states that the colony administration doesn’t let out any of the prisoners’ petitions to the presidential administration. In August 2006 Pavel spent 1/3 of his term and applied for parole to the appropriate Commission of the presidential administration. However, the documents didn’t reach the commission and were returned to the prisoner.
Liudmila Kuchura, wife of a prisoner Piatro Kuchura, also told about the tortures he husband faced. ‘For placing a prisoner to a penal isolator the prison doctor must sign an appropriate certificate. My husband, Piatro Kuchura, has sciatica and a high blood pressure, 150 x 100. In these conditions the doctor signed an agreement for his first placement to the penal isolator. Next time he was taken there for three days for coming to a medical department for medicines without convoy,’ the woman said.
The prisoner thusly described the conditions in the penal isolator: ‘the radiators were cold and the temperature was the same that outdoors, but without wind. I woke up at 0.30 a.m. on 11 November, because I was shaking all over from freeze. I knocked to the duty controller’s door and asked why the radiators were cold. He said that the radiators were disconnected by sanitary technicians and he had no relation to it. I knocked once again and asked to give me a quilted jacked. He answered it was not within his power to decide such questions and advised to shut up. I asked him to call the duty assistant or the commander of the guard.
Ten minutes later a brigade consisting of lieutenant-colonel Mirutka and three more persons came in. Mirutka commanded: ‘Hands to the wall. In the case of resistance we will use physical force and special means – gas.’ I didn’t resist. They twisted my arms and handcuffed me to the chain that holds the plank-bed. Then they went away. I sat there silently. An hour later the duty controller was answering a telephone call. ‘Yes, he goes on brawling and calling names’, he said. I objected and said I was sitting silently. He didn’t answer, but ten minutes later the brigade came to my cell again and major Kulikou squeezed the handcuffs on my wrists as strong as he could. I asked to ease the handcuffs, but he answered that one could keep them this way for two hours and nothing will happen. ‘Even if something goes wrong, it doesn’t bother me. What do you need hands for, you are in jail,’ he said. Kulikou also covered my head with a towel, saying it was against sunstroke. Two hours later, at 4 a.m., they returned and removed the handcuffs. The hands went blue and there were deep pinchers on the wrists.
They left the door of my cell open and I spent the last 2 days in draught.’
On 7 February in Minsk a number of women, whose relatives have been sentenced to long prison terms on criminal, civil and property cases, held a press conference in Minsk. These women are far from politics, but they are sure that their relatives fell victims to court lawlessness or at least judicial mistakes. They acquainted with one another in the receptions of high officials, have studied laws and codes not worse than lawyers and learned to get the facts the investigation didn’t manage to obtain. They understood that they can restore justice only acting together. Their common grief is dozens of complaints and soulless come-offs. They have twice applied for authorization of a picket. Minsk city executive committee twice refused to them because the applications ‘were filled incorrectly’. On 2 February a deputy chair of Minsk city executive committee Mikhail Tsitsiankou refused to them for the third time referring to article 110 of the Constitution – ‘any interference with the activity of judges on rendering justice is inadmissible and punishable by the law’. That’s why at their conference the women decided to hold a picket near the Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv on 2 March.
- Right to association
On 5 February the Supreme Court didn’t satisfy a complaint against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register a public association of the Belarusian pensioners Stareishyny. The chair of Stareishyny Uladzimir Ramanouski stated that within 1,5 months the initiative group would organize another constituent assembly and again filed with the ministry materials for registration. ‘In the case the officials again refuse to our public association – it will witness purposeful political counteraction to our official acknowledgement’, stated Ramanouski.
On 14 February the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Union of Left Parties founded by the Belarusian women’s party Nadzeia, the Party of Communists of Belarus and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada. The formal reason for the refusal is holding of the constituent assembly abroad, in the Ukraine. As a result the ministry also warned the parties that ‘political parties don’t have the right to organize and hold any measures on the territory of other states’. At first they planned to hold the assembly in Minsk, but the authorities refused to provide any building for it.
On 5 February a sitting of the organization committee for establishment of the Party of Freedom and Progress took place. The issues of PFP establishment and registration at the Ministry of Justice were discussed there. The committee tries to register it for 4 years already. The registration documents were passed in autumn 2003, in spring 2004 and in spring 2005. However, the Ministry of Justice refused to register the party all three times. The Belarusian liberals decided to make the fourth attempt.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 9 February Hrodna Kastrychnitski borough court issued a verdict on a criminal case against the chair of Hrodna office of the Union of Poles in Belarus Mechyslau Iaskevich. In November 2006 the police detained him on a trolley bus stop for ‘initiation a fight’ and brought a case under part 1 of article 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). It is the first criminal case against UPB members. Earlier they were punished for ‘violations’ of the Administrative Code. At the trial the judge rejected the petition to summon three witnesses of the defense. The court also ignored considerable differences in the testimonies of the accusation’s witnesses. As a result Mechyslau Iaskevich was sentenced to pay 1 240 000 rubles fine (about 600 US dollars). Besides, he is to pay 500 000 rubles of material harm to the victim. Mechyslau Iaskevich didn’t take the blame and is going to appeal the court verdict. The Union of Poles in Belarus considers it as political harassment.
On 20 February a judge Minsk Leninski borough court Zinaida Krasouskaia issued a verdict in a criminal case against Kanstantsin Lukashou, brother of a politician Viachaslau Siuchyk. Mr. Lukashou was found guilty of violation of article 364 of the Criminal Code, violence or threat of violence towards policemen, and sentenced to 2 years of conditional imprisonment. He is also to pay 1 000 000 rubles (about 450 US dollars) compensation to the ‘injured’ policeman, and all the court expenses. Since 19 December K.Lukashou was illegally and groundlessly detained in an investigative isolator for 2 months and was released from custody in the court hall.
A special commission of the punishment execution department refused to release early an oppositional leader Pavel Seviarynets despite the fact that he has no reprimands. The reason for the refusal is that at the commission’s sitting he didn’t take the blame and refused to ‘improve’. Seviarynets was sentenced to 2 years of personal restraint and spends his term at sawmill in the village of Malaie Sitna of Polatsk district. He will be released in half a year.
- Freedom of conscience
On 9 February in one of the protestant prayer houses in Mahiliou the police detained 10 US citizens, took away their passports and composed reports of administrative violations for teaching English without an official permission. A group of American pensioners arrived from the Missouri US state on 5 February on petition of the department of humanitarian activity of the presidential administration for teaching English within the framework of a charitable action English for all. Nevertheless, on 13 February each of the volunteers was fined 31 000 rubles for ‘illegal teaching’ and on 16 February deported from Belarus with the prohibition to enter its precincts for 2 years.
- Activation of secret services
On 16 February Tatsiana Usinovich was summonsed to a dean’s office of the Pedagogical University. There she was met by two persons in mufti, who introduced themselves as KGB workers. One of them even said his surname was Drozd. They talked with the student for 2,5 hours, asking her about a recent travel of the Belarusian youth to Bialystok (Tatsiana facilitate the issue of visas to a number of persons, though she personally didn’t went to Bialystok). The KGB workers paid especial interest to her relations with the Consulate of the Embassy of Poland in Belarus. They tried to convince her that abroad young people undergo ideological brainwashing after which they have a distorted perception of reality. They explained to her that representatives of such unregistered organizations as Young Front and Belarusian Student Association took part in the journey and tried to intimidate her by stating that she had given support to these organizations. During the talk they insistently advised her to inform them about the activities of the organizations and said they would find her a good job for it.
On 23 February they came to the university again. Tatsiana Usinovich refused to cooperate with them and said they could give her official summons in the case they had any questions. However, on 1 March the KGB agents phoned her to say they have written a summons which was at one of the departments of Minsk KGB office. In the office, in presence of the agent who had introduced himself as Drozd, she again refused to give any explanations, which the KGB registered in the minutes. T.Usinovich, in her turn, registered their use of four-letter words by them.
Ivan Siarheieu, an activist of the United Civil Party, student of Homel State Technical University sent a letter to the chair of Hrodna regional KGB office, asking to consider his signature under a collaboration agreement invalid and hold an investigation concerning the persons who introduced themselves as KGB workers and pressurized him.
According to the information of the chair of Homel regional UCP organization Vasil Paliakou, on 22 February unknown persons who introduced themselves as KGB workers, using threats and blackmail, made him sign an agreement to collaborate with KGB. The student says that the two-hour ‘talk’ with them took place at a dean’s office whose door was locked. They threatened him with expulsion from the university. Now the UCP branch also prepares a complaint to prosecutor’s office with the request to stop such illegal actions of KGB workers.
- Harassment of public and political activists
On 4 February at a private apartment KGB and police detained 27 activists of an unregistered youth organization Young Front. A criminal case under article 193-1 of the Criminal Code (activity on behalf of unregistered organization) was brought against Zmitser Khvedaruk and Aleh Korban. They spent 3 days in the KGB jail before receiving the charges.
On 10 February KGB and police burst into a private cottage where the activists of a liquidated youth organization Belarusian Student Association gathered. The cottage was searched, as the police allegedly received information that there were drugs there. About 30 activists were detained and taken to Minsk district police department. There the policemen took their fingerprints, made video shots and took explanatory notes from them. In the evening the youth were released without any violation reports composed.
- Liberty of word and the right to distribute information
On 5 February in Homel a members of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Iulia Salnikava received an official warning from the prosecutor’s office concerning inadmissibility of law violations by acting as a foreign correspondent. The prosecutor’s office found that ‘Iulia Salnikava, having no accreditation as a representative of a foreign mass media, fulfills journalist activity on the territory of Belarus on behalf of two foreign radio stations – Deutsche Welle and Radio Racyja’. In the warning she was also reminded about ‘responsibility for presentation of non-true information to foreign mass media.
On 12 February the Ministry of Information issued two warnings to the editorial office of a non-state magazine Arche for violation of the law On press and other mass media. The reason for the warning is that in December 2006, after a 3-month suspension, the editorial board issued 3 numbers at once. The chief editor Valery Bulhakau explained that they had to do it not to disappoint the subscribers and to save the distribution agreement concluded with Belposhta.