Chronicle-Review of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2007
In April civil activity was connected with preparation and holding the second important spring action, Chernobyl Way, dedicated to the 21st anniversary of Chernobyl accident. 26 April is a tragic date not only for Belarus and the consequences of the accident still influence the ecology and the health of Belarusians. However, in the present conditions the Belarusian authorities and the democratic opposition commemorate this date separately. As the authorities fear mass street actions and any dialogue with the people, Minsk city executive committee authorized the action, but changed the route. The organizers intended to gather in Yakub Kolas Square and proceed along Nezalezhnastsi Avenue to the National Library. Instead, the officials permitted a procession from the Academy of Sciences to Banhalor Square along Surhanau Street. The action organizers disagreed with such decision and on 23 April appealed it to Maskouski court of Minsk referring to article 6 of the law On mass actions, in which it is stated that any change of the action route is to be discussed with the organizers. However, the judges considered this argument ‘insufficient’ for abolishment of the CEC ruling and didn’t grant the organizers’ suit.
On 25 April, the hour before the beginning of the action the police overlapped all ways to Yakub Kolas Square, Belarusian State Philharmonic and tube exists. Trains didn’t stop at Yakub Kolas Square station. About 10 000 people came to the action. They adopted a resolution with the demand to abolish all decrees contradicting to the law On social protection of the citizens who suffered from the catastrophe at Chernobyl nuclear power station and restore all monetary compensations to Chernobyl victims in dollar equivalent of the Soviet ruble of 1990. Besides, the action participants expressed their categorical protest against construction of a nuclear power station in Belarus.
After the end of the meeting the police attacked the dispersing people. Near McDonalds situated opposite Banhalor Square they forcibly seized several activists who held national symbols in their hands, took them to the police station, shot video, took fingerprints and let go without composing any reports. Some of the beaten applied for medical service to the 24-hour traumatologic station of polyclinic #19. The organizers of Chernobyl was stated it was necessary to get a criminal case brought against the authorities of Minsk city executive committee and the police who consciously put the lives and health of people to serious risk. During the procession traffic police made people go along the pavements that were being repaired and were covered with debris and sand.
In the middle of April the courts of Belarus continued trials of the activists who had been detained at Freedom Day action, 25 March. On 4 April Savetski court of Minsk considered the administrative cases against the well-known Belarusian politician Viachaslau Siuchyk and the leader of the BPF Party Vintsuk Viachorka. The trial was attended by Aliaksandr Milinkevich and Anatol Liabedzka, human rights activists, public and political activists, representatives of OSCE, diplomatic missions of the US, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Romania, France and other countries. The politicians were charged with petty hooliganism (Vintsuk Viachorka allegedly swore and Viachaslau Siuchyk – urinated in a public place) and were found guilty, but were released because of ‘insignificance of the crime’.
In April KGB and prosecutor’s offices continued interrogating youth activists within the frame of a criminal case on the activity of the unregistered youth organization Young Front. The case was passed to Savetski court of Minsk. ‘The prosecutor’s office worked over the case for about half a year’, commented one of the accused, Aleh Korban, ‘which means it started much earlier than we were informed about it. About 7 volumes were collected. We familiarized with them during 4 days, about 2 hours a day. The investigation also demonstrated to us the video tapes of the St. Valentine’s Day action when we passed notes to the European Embassies.’ The case also contains print-outs of web-sites and Xerox copies of newspaper materials. Much space is occupied by the print-outs of bugging of the apartments we rented for 2-3 months to gather there). The judge who was first appointed to the case, Aliaksei Tamanau, refused to lead the trial. The official reason is a bad state of health. The new judge is Ruslan Aniskevich.
We should remind that article 193-1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, on which the leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to 1,5 years of jail, provides different kinds of punishment – from fines to 2 years of jail. At the same time, Young Front again and again tries to obtain state registration.
On 20 April Human Rights Center Viasna adopted an appeal to the international community, asking it to abstain from inclusion of representatives of Belarush in the UN Human Rights Council till the Belarusian government demonstrated real abidance by the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similar statements were made by relatives of the political prisoners of Belarus, relatives of the missing politicians, representatives of the liquidated organization Legal assistance to population and the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
On 24 April the Belarusian the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, chair of Human Rights Center Viasna which has been liquidated by the authorities was elected deputy chairman of the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH.
- Right to freedom of conscience
On 18 April Christian Human Rights House held presentation of the book Monitoring of violations of Christians’ rights in Belarus in 2006. Speeches were delivered by the lawyer of New Life church Siarhei Lukanin, the coordinator of Solidarity initiative Inna Kulei, the lawyer Siarhei Shautsou, etc. All of them emphasized the unprecedented growth of pressurization of Belarus’ Christians by the authorities.
On 22 April in Belarus the campaign on defense of the right to freedom conscience started. It aim is to collect signatures under the petition for amendment of the acting law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations which groundlessly restricts the rights of Christian confessions and certain denominations (especially those which have been recently established and have small number of believers).
- Administrative punishment of participants of peaceful actions
On 2 April the court of Mahiliou sentenced the youth activists Iauhen Suvorau and Anton Ustsimchuk for alleged petty hooliganism (swearing). On 24 March the police preventively detained them on the eve of Freedom Day action (which took place on 25 March) and composed violation reports. Till 26 March (the day when the trial was to have taken place) the activist were kept in an isolator. On 2 April, despite the court verdict, Suvorau and Ustsimchuk weren’t sent back to jail, but were given 5 days to appeal the court verdict instead. On 19 April Mahiliou regional court left the verdict in force. Despite this, the activists didn’t come to jail.
On 5 April Maskouski court of Brest fined the human rights activist and journalist Uladzimir Vialichkin 310 000 rubles (about 145 US dollars). He was preventively detained on the eve of Freedom Day and charged with petty hooliganism. He was also kept in isolator till 26 March. The trial was several times postponed.
On 26 April the judge of Chyhunachny court of Vitsebsk Sviatlana Varatynskaia sentenced the oppositional activist and distributor of independent press Barys Khamaida to two days of arrest for standing with a poster Chime in the memory of Chernobyl’s victims and ringing a bell. The action lasted five minutes and then Khamaida was taken to Chyhunachny police department. The police composed a report under part 3 of article 23.34 of the new Administrative Code, ‘violation of the order of organization or holding a mass action or picketing’. Then the activist was taken to court.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 3 April in the prosecutor’s office of Minsk the former businessman and deputy of the Supreme Soviet of 13th Convocation Andrei Klimau was arrested. The reason was than in January 2007 the website of the United Civil Party published the article Revolution Forever, or How to Correctly Flay Gypsy Hog in the Year of the Pig, where Klimau expressed his views on the ways for system transformation of the political system of the country. Later it was found that the criminal case under part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code had been brought against Klimau on 28 February for alleged public calls to coup d’etat. Andrei Klimau faces 1 to 5 years of jail. The investigation chose detention as a restraint. Human rights activists consider these charges politically motivated and insist the case be stopped because of absence of corpus delicti in the politician’s actions.
We should remind that after his second politically motivated imprisonment Andrei Klimau spent outside jail only several months. Till December 2006 he was doing corrective labor for organization of a peaceful protest action of 25 March 2005. During Lukashenka’s rule this active opponent of Lukashenka spent in jail 5,5 years. During the first imprisonment he spent 4 years in jail for alleged ‘economic crimes’, thought the international community confessed him a prisoner of conscience.
On 3 April the college board of Minsk city court abolished the verdict of Leninski court of Minsk on the criminal case against the research worker of the Academy of Sciences Kanstantsin Lukashou, brother to the well-known politician Viachaslau Siuchyk, and returned it for re-consideration. On 20 February Leninski court found Lukashou guilty of violence towards a policeman on duty (article 364 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to 2 years of conditional imprisonment with 1-year probation term. The court also obliged Mr. Lukashou to pay one million rubles (about 500 US dollars) as compensation to the ‘injured’ policeman Anatol Sushchenia for moral and physical harm.
On 11 April the youth activist Dzianis Dzianisau was released from investigative isolator #2 on seven thousand dollars bail. On 16 February Dzianisau was detained on accusation of ‘organization and preparation of or active participation in the actions that grossly violate the public order’, part 1 of article 342 of the Criminal Code. The investigation considers the activist an organizer on the so called ‘Bunt case’ (on 19 June 2006 a national white-red-white flag a Bunt transparent were hanged out on the lightning tower of Vitsebsk amphitheater). The sum of the bail was collected by his relatives, friends and other concerned people.
In April the imprisoned youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich underwent a medical examination at the prison hospital of Minsk. Despite the fact that yet before the imprisonment the doctors prohibited hard physical labor to Dashkevich because of problems with spine, the prison administration transferred him to a sawmill, as a result of which the pains in the spine increased. At the hospital osteochondrosis was diagnosed. On 1 November the leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to 1,5 years of jail under article 193-1 of the Criminal Code (activity on behalf of unregistered organization). Amnesty International declared Dashkevich a prisoner of conscience.
- Tortures and other kinds of inhuman treatment
The well-known Belarusian literary scientist Uladzimir Sodal (who turns 70 this year) is indignant at beating of participants of Chernobyl Wayrally by riot police near Banhalor Square. He and his wife were also beaten there, when going home after the end of the action. According to Sodal, the policemen acted suddenly and boldly. ‘I could run away, but my dignity didn’t let me. Why should I, having survived the terrible years of Nazi occupation, run from my younger compatriots in a peaceful time?’ Sodal wonders.
- Persecution of public and political leaders
In the evening of 1 April Homeal activist and human rights activist Anatol Paplauny noticed that somebody had paid a ‘visit’ to his private house. A ventlight was torn out from a window and a flowerpot was smashed. Nothing was stolen. Anatol Paplauny called the police, who took explanations from him and composed an appropriate report. ‘I think somebody wanted to intimidate me because of my public activity. Such things happened before 25 March and continue now,’ commented Paplauny.
On 18 April the presidium of Minsk regional Bar fired Ihar Rynkevich, lawyer of the political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin, ‘on his own free will’. According to the lawyer, the decision to resign was an anticipatory step, as he was twice disciplinary punished, once threatened, and also beaten near the entrance of the police station where his client was kept. Besides, the authorities started to pressurize his colleagues and the Ministry of Justice has started a check-up. Now Ihar Rynkevich will defend Aliaksandr Kazulin not as a lawyer, but as an ordinary citizen. Mr. Rynkevich is sure that he will have the possibility to become a lawyer when the power changes.
- Right to association
The Ministry of Justice demands from NGOs explanations concerning their participation in the unregistered assembly of NGOs. Warnings were presented to Leu Sapeha Foundation, BPF Adradzhenne and Belarusian Helsinki Committee. ‘It is a usual case for Belarus, when the right to association is violated. This association of NGOs attempted to get registered several times, but each time the Ministry of Justice refused to register it. Now the ministry has sent to about 20 organizations the order to give explanations why they violate the law On public associations by participation in an unregistered association. Even criminal punishment is provided for it. It is simply a continuation of the general campaign for destruction of the civil society which was started by the authorities in 1999,’ commented the Belarusian human rights activist Uladzimir Labkovich.
- Right to peaceful assembly
On 5 April the co-chairman of the organizational committee on establishment of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy Aliaksei Shein applied to Minsk city executive committee for holding on 20 April a picket wit the aim to turn public attention to the problems of realization of the people’s right to freedom of conscience. It was intended to hold the picket at 5.00-7.30 p.m. in Svabody Square. Minsk authorities didn’t authorize the picket, as it would allegedly interfere with the movement of pedestrians along the sidewalks.
On 10 April Leninski court of Mahiliou considered as legal and grounded the actions of the police towards a group of democratic activists who in December 2006 went to Chernihiv for participation in the constituent assembly of the Union of Left Forces. Yury Darashenka, Aliaksandr Karaliou, Iryna Kacharava and Aliaksei Paulouski accused the police in attempting to disrupt their journey and violation of their right to free movement. The court depleted the petition of the activists for listening of a Dictaphone tape and, despite all evidence, took the police side.
Minsk authorities for formal reasons didn’t let to the Belarusian trade union of radio electronic industry to hold on 15 April in Banhalor square the organizational sitting of the initiative group on collecting of signatures for abolishment of the contract system of employment. The trade union of radio electronic industry is one of the initiators of the campaign for amendment of the labor legislation with the aim to abolish the contract employment. In the majority of cases contracts are conducted for a short period of time, as a result of which workers are under constant threat of dismissal and become completely dependent on employers.
- Politically motivated dismissals from office
Tatsiana Seviarynets, teacher of Russian language and literature of secondary school #40 and mother of the political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets, was fired. In the end of March she participated in the seminar ‘Children in the system of education’ held by the Warsaw center of school work. Before this she asked the schoolmasters for one-week absence leave for family reasons and received it. When she returned, she found that all her classes were removed from the schedule and she was summonsed to Pershamaiski education department of Vitsebsk together with the schoolmaster. There the chair of the education department Uladzimir Shloma stated that ‘KGB phoned and said that Tatsiana Seviarynets was in Warsaw and had no family reasons for her absence’. By the way, Tatsiana Seviarynets not only participated in the pedagogical seminar, but also visited in Warsaw her grandfather’s grave. The pupils’ parents collected 31 signatures with the request to leave the teacher in the school, but their petition was simply ignored.
On 25 April in Brest the leaders of the regional organizations of the BPF Party, Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada and the Party of Communists applied to Brest regional executive committee with the proposal to discuss the facts of politically motivated office dismissals of people. In their letter they pointed out that during the last few years a number of activists of political parties and opposition-minded people were fired or had to resign. According to officials of the parties, these dismissals were dictated rather by political than professional reasons and are a manifestation of labor prohibition to activists of democratic forces. A list of the fired has been attached to the letter.