Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in March 2007
This March is an echo of the events of 2006, when in the face of inevitable democratic changes the dictatorial authorities of Belarus tried to smother any manifestations of disobedience. Since that time the repressions against youth have considerably increased, as the authorities are seriously afraid of the younger generation. KGB agents phone to youngsters on mobile phones and ‘make dates’, hold ‘talks’ at educational establishments, propose collaboration and try to intimidate.
The civil society of Belarus prepared to celebration of the anniversary of March 2006 protests. In different parts of Belarus activists applied to local authorities for authorization of peaceful processions and meetings dedicated to Freedom Day, but the actions were prohibited. Minsk city executive committee didn’t authorize the meeting in Kastrychnitskaia Square (the city’s center), but allowed it in Banhalor Square (quite far from the center). The administrations of enterprises and educational establishments held prophylactic talks to prevent participation of people in the festive actions.
Public activists were detained for distribution of leaflets with information about the Freedom Day. Using their traditional tactics, the police staged provocations against activists of democratic parties, NGOs and movements. Dozens of people were arrested or fined on the eve of 25 March. The police also prevented people from coming to Minsk. For instance, on 25 March the police detained the entrepreneur Uladzimir Hermak, who was driving from Rahachou to Minsk and transported there about 10 citizens including students who studied in Poland on Kastus Kalinouski educational program. In Mahiliou activists received summons to KGB and police for 25 March. Among them there were an organizer of the festive meeting in Mahiliou Aliaksandr Silkou, party activists Iryna Kacharava, Siarhei Straltsou (United Civil Party) and Iury Novikau (Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada).
In March the prosecutor’s office continued the investigative measures on the criminal case that was brought by KGB against the unregistered of the unregistered organization Young Front (article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, activity on behalf of unregistered organization). A wave of interrogations of youngsters covered Belarus. Finally, the youth activists Barys Haretski, Aliaksei Ianusheuski, Zmitser Khvedaruk, Aleh Korban and under-aged Anastasiia Palazhanka were declared accused in the case. It’s worth mentioning that on 1 November 2006 the leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to 1,5 years of jail under this very article. Human Rights Center Viasna condemned the increase of the political persecution of activists of youth organizations and movements in Belarus.
On 13 March Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Tatsiana Reviaka, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Iryna Toustsik applied to the Constitutional Court of Belarus concerning contradiction of certain regulations of the new Process-Executive Code on Administrative Violations (PECAV) to the Constitution. They asked the court to propose to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly amending the PECAV with the aim to make part 2 of article 11.12 conform to article 26 of the Constitution.
On 19 March the EU officially declared the prolongation of its sanctions against the Belarusian authorities to 10 April 2008.
On 22 March a criminal case under article #342 of the Criminal Code, organization or active participation in group actions that grossly violate the public order was brought against Aliaksandra Iasiuk from Barysau, Mikita Krasou, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Natallia Starastsina and Aliaksandr Uryuski.
On the eve of the Freedom Day the deputy of the Estonian Parliament Silver Maker and the activist of a group of support to Belarus in Estonia Jelena Katsuba weren’t let in Belarus. On the border their visas were annulled by the Belarusian border guards, who referred to an order received on diplomatic channels. On 25 March the authorities organized some festive actions as an alternative to the oppositional ones. Representatives of different state institutions and educational establishments were ordered to come there. On Lukashenka’s personal order concerts For Free Belarus! were held in Minsk-1 airport and near the National Library, despite the fact that on 23 March a Belarusian aircraft Il-76 was shaken down in Somali and the director of the State Committee on Aviation Melnik applied to the presidential administration with the request to cancel them.
The most outrageous of the present human rights violations in Belarus is the kidnapping of the activist Krystsina Shatsikava and her detention in a psychiatric clinic. Were it not for witnesses, her fate could have remained unknown for a long time. It witnesses that the Belarusian regime can invent refined methods for silencing dissidents.
Despite the prohibition of the authorities, on 25 March representatives of the democratic movement decided to start their peaceful procession in Kastrychnitskaia Square. However, the square was blocked by riot police. As a result the action participants gathered in two different places. One of the columns was violently pushed out to Peramozhtsau Avenue and then dispersed, whereas the second moved to the Academy of Sciences along Nezalezhnastsi Square. Soon after its arrival the remnants of the first column with Aliaksandr Milinkevich at the head came there as well and a meeting started. The action participants demanded from the participants to immediately start the implementation of the 12 demands of the European Union. This day the police detained dozens of activists, mainly youth. Most of them were set free after writing explanatory notes. ‘Preventive arrests of opposition’s activists on the eve of 25 March contradict to the international undertakings of Belarus’, stated the Ambassador of Germany in Belarus Martin Hekker.
On 25 March the state monopolist on electronic communications Beltelekam used channel shaping to block or hinder access to a number of informational sites.
- Tortures and other kinds of inhuman or degrading treatment
On 23 March in Mahiliou five unknown persons in mufti seized Khrystsina Shatsikava in presence of her friend and pulled her into a dark Niva car. Only in the evening of 24 March it became known that Shatsikava is kept in the 8th department of the psychiatric clinic of Mahiliou. The doctors gave her ‘medical treatment’ for 3 days. ‘I was tied to a bad and they injected some medicines. This weekend I spent in unconsciousness, whereas my mother was told no medical means were applied,’ said K.Shatsikava at her press-conference. On 26 March she was released from the hospital as the medical council found her sane. The leader of the democratic forces applied to the international community with the urge to ‘decisively condemn the attempts of the Belarusian regime to return to such sinister methods of struggle against political opponents as political psychiatry’.
- Persecution of political leaders
On 30 March the police searched the private house of the member of the Sojm (Council) of Belarusian People’s Front Uladzimir Kishkurna. They allegedly looked for drugs in connection with the criminal case against his son, who in 2005 was imprisoned for selling drugs. However, finally the policemen’s attention was drawn by a risograph, which they confiscated despite absence of any legal grounds for it.
- Activity of secret services
The student of Homel state university Ihar Sluchak received an official answer from Hrodna regional KGB office. In his application the youngster asked the KGB office to discriminate in the legality of the actions of the KGB agent Siarhei Pyrkh, who tried to recruit him. The received answer was just a formal come-off with excerpts from the law on investigative and search measures, according to which KGB agents have the right to question citizens and propose cooperation to them, whereas citizens have the right to refuse.
KGB agents blackmailed the student of Homel Technical University Ivan Siarheieu into signing an agreement to collaborate with them. In his written appeal to Homel regional KGB office the student pointed at illegality of the actions of the KGB workers and asked the office to consider the document invalid. Homel regional office of the United Civil Party, a member of which Mr. Siarheieu is, applied to Homel regional prosecutor’s office asking to stop the KGB activity related to youth activists. The chair of the regional UCP organization Vasil Paliakou thinks that recently the secret services have started acting with open violations of the law.
- Right to peaceful assembly
On 2 March the Belarusian women whose relatives had been sentenced to long terms of jail on criminal, civil and property cases, held a picket near the Embassy of Belarus in Kyiv. They stated that their action under the slogan ‘Power is the people, not the officials’ had no political motivation. The women demanded resignation of the Prosecutor General and the chairman of the Supreme Court, because they receive only formal come-office to their complaint concerning the cases of their relatives. They have thrice applied to Minsk city executive committee for authorization of their action under the slogan ‘Freedom to Illegally Imprisoned’ and were thrice refused. As a result they sued against the executive committee to Minsk Maskouski borough court. The trial was appointed on 3 April.
Salihorsk district executive committee refused to authorize a picket of the Independent trade union of miners of the republican Unitarian enterprise Belaruskaliy which they intended to hold on 14 March, ‘because an epidemic of influenza was declared in the city’. The trade union wanted to protest against the regulation of the draft law on pensions, which deprives workers of privileged pensions. On 26 March the trade union applied to the district executive committee for authorization of another action, scheduled for 10 April at Budaunik stadium.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 7 March in Vitsebsk in presence of a defense lawyer the investigation interrogated the defender of the protesters’ tent camp in Kastrychnitskaia Square Dzianis Dzianisau, who was detained on 16 February in Homel. He is suspected in organization of group actions which grossly violate the public order (article 342 of the Criminal Code). On 12 March the lawyer Piatro Kavalenka filed a complaint with the prosecutor of Vitsebsk region concerning the legality of the chosen restraint to his defendant. He also asked the prosecutor to change the restraint. The authorities agreed to release Dzianisau before trial on about 7 500 US dollars bail.
The imprisoned leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich received the 4th reprimands from the administration of Shklou penal colony #17 where he serves his sentenced, for reading after retreat. Now he is considered a malignant violator of the regime, who didn’t step on the path of correction and can be deprived of the right to parole. Besides, according to the press-secretary of Young Front Barys Haretski, such number of reprimands deprives Zmitser Dashkevich of the right to be visited by relatives.
On 29 March the lawyers Zmitser Harachka and Ihar Rynkevich separately sent by registered letters the last review complaints to the Supreme Court for abolishment of the sentence to the former candidate to the presidential position, leader of Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Aliaksandr Kazulin. According to Rynkevich, ‘it gives to the supreme judiciary instance a real possibility to correct all judicial malpractices related to Kazulin’.
- Right to association. Pressurization of NGOs
On 12 March the Union of Left Forces filed with the Supreme Court of Belarus a complaint in connection with the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. On 17 December 2006 the leaders of the Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB), Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) and Belarusian Women’s Party Nadzeia signed in Chernihiv (Ukraine) the constituent treaty on the establishment of the Union of Left Forces. The appropriate documents were submitted to the Ministry of Justice. However, the latter refused to register the union and on 1 February even issued written warnings to the abovementioned parties where it was stated that ‘political parties have no right to organize and hold any measures on the territory of other states’.
On 16 March an unauthorized search was held in the premises where the books and a part of the property of the NGO World Association of Belarusians Batskaushchyna was kept took place. According to the chair of the Batskaushchyna council Alena Makouskaia, the people who conducted it ‘didn’t introduce, didn’t show any warrants and didn’t show any documents at all’. The only one who showed his certificate was the local police inspector. As a result the ‘unknown’ confiscated about 1 000 copies of historical books, including books by Iury Turonak and Iury Vitsbich, well-known activists of the Belarusian Diaspora.
On 12 March the coordinator of the project Tuzin Hitou (Hit Dozen) Siarhei Budkin, the concert manager Pavel Kashyryn and the lawyer Valiantsin Stefanovich paid a visit to the culture department of Minsk city executive committee to get permission for holding a concert of the rock-band Krama. The officials couldn’t explain why concerts of this rock band (as well as concerts of many others) are banned in Belarus. Instead they advised the activists to apply to the ideology department of the presidential administration, from which they received orders. They also told the musicians must publicly repent, but didn’t specify what to repent in. After such talk the activists decided to compose a written application for authorization of a band’s concert.
On 13 March the council of the Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW) issued a statement concerning the preparation of a large-scale ideological reorganization of the school programs in the Belarusian literature. The writers state that the Belarusian officials reach the ultimate stages of meanness and Pharisaism when trying to prohibit some works by the famous Belarusian writer Ianka Kupala, such as his play Tuteishyia. Besides, the new versions of the schools programs include the study of the ‘great role of the Union of Writers of Belarus (pro-governmental one, established 1 year ago to counteract to the older UBW) in the development of the literature.
The leaders of the UBW demanded official explanations from representatives of the main ideological department of the presidential administration, the Ministry of Education and the Union of Writers of Belarus. The organization also filed a complaint with the Soviet of Ministers and the Prosecutor’s office of Belarus, asking to abolish the last year’s ruling of the education minister Aliaksandr Radzkou. This odious document prohibits holding meetings with disgraced writers by stating they can be held only on agreement of the Union of Writers of Belarus. the UBW considers this ruling of A.Radzkou as illegal restriction of the members of the Union of Belarusian Writers and of the organization on the whole.
- Administrative persecution
The leaders of the national strike committee of entrepreneurs Valery Levaneuski and Aliaksandr Vasilieu twice attempted to move out to Minsk to an entrepreneurs’ meeting that was permitted by the authorities. The first time the riot police detained their car on 11 March, because it was allegedly stolen. In the morning of the following day the car was detained by the traffic police at the city outskirts. The traffic policemen stated that it was necessary for the activists to drive to Hrodna district police department for checking whether the car was stolen by them or not. When Levaneuski and Vasilieu were at the police department, the policemen searched their microbus and confiscated ‘as nobody’s’ the private belongings of Valery Levaneuski: digital photo camera and Dictaphone, loudspeaker, documents, etc. without composing any reports of administrative detention, search or examination. Valery Levaneuski filed a complaint with the chair of the police department of Hrodna district executive committee and the prosecutor’s office against the illegal actions of the police.
On 19 March Hrodna Leninski borough court sentenced the correspondent of Magazyn Polski Ihar Bantsar to 10 days of jail. Mr. Bantsar was preventively detained by the police on 18 March for ‘identification’, but then was charged with ‘petty hooliganism’. The edition’s editor Andrei Pachobut stated that Mr. Bantsar associates this with the events of 17 March, when he witnessed a large booze of the policemen of Hrodna Leninski district police department. ‘Now, in the case he writes an article about it, the policemen will declare it his revenge for the arrest’, Pachobut commented.
- Liberty of speech and the right to distribute information
On 7 March the police burst into the office of Mahiliou regional office of Belarusian People’s Front and confiscated 600 copies of Svaboda newspaper and 1 000 leaflets with information about celebration of the Freedom Day in Minsk.
On 24 March the police detained the public activist Siarhei Laputsin with 3 200 copies of the public-political newspaper Nash Mahiliou and took him to Mahiliou Leninski borough police department. They composed the reports on his detention, the confiscation of the newspapers and the administrative violation. The trial was appointed on 30 March, but didn’t take place as the investigation failed to find the person who passed the newspapers from Minsk to Mahiliou. According to the chief editor Andrei Volkau, it was a special issue, dedicated to the Freedom Day. ‘This newspaper told how our ancestors gained independence in 1918, how Mahiliou accepted Belarusian People’s Republic, how 25 March was celebrated during earlier years, when Belarus again became independent’.
On 26 March Homel Tsentralny borough court considered an administrative case against the journalist Anatol Hatouchyts, correspondent for the independent informational agency BelaPAN. The judge Maryna Damnenka rejected all petitions of the defendant’s lawyer. 15 minutes were enough for her to find Hatouchyts guilty in ‘illegal activity for the benefit of foreign media’ and fine him about 30 US dollars. Representatives of the civil society and journalists weren’t admitted to the trial. Anatol Hatouchyts is going to appeal the verdict to a superior court instance.