Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in May 2007
In May the public attention in Belarus was focused on the response of the Belarusian authorities to the decisive demands of the US and the European Union. In the end of April David Kramer, US deputy assistant secretary of state, made an official visit to Belarus. He stated that the US and the EU expect from the Belarusian authorities concrete steps for normalization of the relations with the international community. The first condition which the Belarusian government must implement for improvement of relations is to release all political prisoners and stop politically motivated harassment, including persecution of Young Front activists. ‘The statements of the Belarusian side about readiness for dialogue do not meet their actions’, stated the diplomat. Mr. Kramer also emphasized that the US still does not use all means of influence on Lukashenka’s regime which are provided by the Bill on support to democracy in Belarus.
Due to such statements the Belarusian authorities had to make some concessions. On 22 May ‘parole for good behavior’ was granted to Pavel Seviarynets and Mikalai Statkevich, the political activists who were sentenced to corrective labor for organization of ‘mass riot’ which in fact was a peaceful protest action against the rigged parliamentary election 2004. Parole was granted to them despite the fact that earlier the court refused early release for them as they ‘did not realize their guilt and didn’t step on the path of correction’. Meanwhile, at the time of release only 2 months of corrective labor were left to the activists. On 25 May ‘parole for good behavior’ was also granted to 50-year-old human rights activist Katsiaryna Sadouskaya who was convicted for insult of the president and a judge. Besides, several criminal cases against youth activists were stopped, including the case against Dzianis Dzianisau and Tatsiana Yelavaya for organization of protest actions of the unregistered organization Bunt in June 2006; the cases against Krasnou, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Mikita, Natallia Starastsina, Aliaksandr Uryuski and Aliaksandra Yasiuk.
The draft law On state social benefits, rights and guarantees for certain categories of citizens got a wide public resonance as well. On 23 May the Chamber of Representatives adopted it without any debates. By this law the 50% discount of transport fees for students was abolished, which increased the protest moods among youth. About 6 000 signatures against the repeal of benefits were collected and passed the Chamber of Representatives.
‘The deprival of groundless privileges in Belarus is not a caprice, but a part of the objective reality’, stated Aliaksandr Lukashenka. He added that soon there would be elaborated a transparent mechanism for address social support. The authorities consider that the population treated the law with understanding. However, the majority of Belarusians do not have even the possibility to express their attitude to this step. The National committee of the united democratic forces proposed to hold the political campaign against the total liquidation of benefits and social guarantees ‘Say NO! to Lukashenka!’. In the majority of cases the authorities banned the meetings and pickets which were organized within the frames of this campaign.
On 21 May in Druzhby Narodau Park near Banhalor Square the police dispersed a peaceful student action against the repeal of benefits. According to witnesses, some of the action participants were severely beaten by the police.
The decision of the authorities to ‘reconstruct’ the historical center of Hrodna with demolition of architectural monuments and destruction of the cultural lawyers of the 14-19 century revolted not only historians and local core researchers, but even ordinary citizens who try to prevent this barbarism. Activists keep 24 hour duty near the buildings of the Old Town who were put on the demolition list. On 29 May the activists of the civil campaign Let’s Save Hrodna applied to Hrodna prosecutor’s office against law violations during the construction works in the historical center of the city. The protest note was signed by 789 citizens. Besides, representatives of the intellectual circles of Hrodna intend to initiate a local referendum concerning the city planning and protection of the Old Town.
On 24 May in Hrodna the police detained 13 young defenders of the Old Town, who protested against the demolition of an old steam mill and took them to Leninski police department of Hrodna. There the violation reports were composed. Then the activists were taken to Leninski court where the judge Dzmitry Matseyuk fined Maksim Hubarevich 320 000 rubles (about 150 US dollars) for alleged organization of the action. 7 more activists received official warnings. Journalists were not admitted to the trial.
On 17 May a sitting of the UN General Assembly took place in New York. As a result of the voting Belarus was not included into the UN Human Rights Council. On the eve of the sitting a number of Belarusian and international human rights organizations expressed their firmly negative attitude to the possible inclusion of the country in the Human Rights Council. One of their main arguments was that such step would undermine the authority of this international organ and would put to doubt its principles. The adversaries pointed that the situation of human rights in Belarus is the hardest among all European countries.
- Freedom of conscience
On 8 May the police department of Miadzel district annulled the residence permit to the Polish missionary, member of the United Church of Evangelic Christians Jaroslaw Lukasik and ordered him to leave the country within 1 month because of ‘activity aimed at doing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus in the field of inter-confessional relations’.
On 16 May the priest’s wife directed an open letter to the authorities and on 18 May a similar appeal to the authorities was filed by 29 Protestant priests. ‘We consider it inadmissible to decide on the fate of the priest and his large family on the basis of far-fetched accusations. We are especially concerned with the fact that recently such situations have become systematic’, reads the appeal of priests to the presidential administration and the Department on citizenship and migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
On 27 May the police detained Jaroslaw Lukasik in a private house and took him to Tsentralny police department of Minsk. There they composed on him a report for unauthorized liturgy. Lukasik was released only on arrival of the Polish consul. On 28 May the chair of Tsentralny police department Vital Siniakou fined Lukasik about 15 US dollars, announced about his deportation since 7 June and five-year entrance prohibition.
A citizen of the US, Protestant missionary Decker Travis Todd has been deported from Belarus as well after his residence permit was annulled, also because of ‘doing harm to the national security of Belarus’. However, which Todds’ actions presented danger to the national security is still unknown.
On 28 May the deputy chair of Tsentralny court of Minsk Leanid Yasinovich fined the pastor of St. John the Precursor Church of the United Church of Evangelic Christians Antoni Bokun about 300 US dollars for unauthorized liturgy, which was considered as violation of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
- Administrative punishment of participants of peaceful actions
On 3 May the judge of Savetski court of Minsk Liudmila Savastsian found the activist of Young Front Zmitser Khvedaruk guilty of administrative violation under part 2 of article 23.34 (violation of the order of organization or holding mass actions) of the Administrative Code and fined him 930 000 rubles (about 450 US dollars). On 26 April, after the end of Chernobyl Way the police attacked a column of participants of the rally and severely beat some of them. However, the authorities accused in it Zmitser Khvedaruk, who allegedly organized unauthorized procession.
Savetski court of Minsk also tried several political activists for organization of Chernobyl Way rally. The judge Aksana Reliava dined the deputy chair of the BPF Party Aliaksei Yanukevich 930 000 rubles, judge Liudmila Savastsian fined 775 000 rubles (about 365 dollars) the member of the political council of the United Civil Party Valiantsina Palevikova and the member of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Anatol Sidarevich. All of them were found guilty in violation of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code because during the procession the column left the pavements (which were being repaired) to the carriage way. In fact, it was provoked by the authorities who changed the route of the procession as a result of which the procession had to go along the repaired pavements.
On 4 May Savetski court of Minsk fined the acting head of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Anatol Liaukovich 620 000 rubles (about 300 US dollars) for violation of the same article during the festive actions on the Labor Day, 1 May. The matter is that representatives of BSDP gathered at the crossing of Kolas and Surhanau streets and proceeded to Banhalor Square, the authorized place of the action. This was considered as violation.
On 24 May Maskouski court of Minsk fined Minsk students Mikalai Korshunau and Yan Mikhailau about 150 US dollars for participation in an unauthorized student action against repeal of benefits.
3. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 2 May the head of the political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin’s juridical service Aleh Volchak and Kazulin’s daughter Yuliya applied to Minsk prosecutor with a repeated complaint concerning the beating of the politician on 2 March 2006. According to the previous answer of the prosecutor’s office the applicants are not participants of a criminal process and don’t have the right to represent Aliaksandr Kazulin’s interests. In their repeated complaint Yuliya Kazulina and Aleh Volchak still demand to bring a criminal case against the policemen and other officials who participated in beating of the politician and give a legal evaluation of their actions.
On 21 May the Supreme Court rejected the review complaints on the criminal case against Aliaksandr Kazulin because of ‘absence of reasons for issue of a protest concerning the abolishment of the previous verdicts and release of the oppositional politician’.
In a letter to his family the political prisoner Andrei Klimau wrote that on 21 May at investigative isolator #1 he had a heart attack. He was taken to the national prison hospital. The term of his keeping in custody was prolonged for three more months. According to Klimau, during all the years he spent in jail his health considerably deteriorated. He complained about head and heartaches, but the administration of the isolator refused to accept any medicines from his relatives. Klimau’s mother twice applied to the health minister of Belarus with the request to put her son in the hospital.
Andrei Klimau was arrested for the third time on 3 April 2007 and given charges under part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code (calls to overturn or change of the state order of the Republic of Belarus…, performed with the use of mass media). Andrei Klimau does not take the blame and refuses to participate in any investigative measures.
In May the authorities continued the criminal persecution of the unregistered youth NGO Young Front. A number of its activists were given charges under article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (activities on behalf of unregistered organization). The trial was appointed on 28 May. On 8 May youth activists made an attempt to legalize their activity and passed documents for registration of Minsk city organization of Young Front to the Ministry of Justice. On 18 May they received a refusal because of alleged contradictions in the organization charter.
At the same time, the authorities continued pressurizing regional activists of Young Front. On 8 May the prosecutor of Baranavichy, senior justice advisor Aliaksandr Smal brought a criminal case under article 193.1 against the minor Yaraslau Hryshchenia. In the ruling of Baranavichy city police department it was stated that on 20 April Hryshchenia filed a statement about cessation of activities on behalf of Young Front, but continued his activity in the organization during Chernobyl Way action on 26 April, which could be witnessed by a police video.
On 11 May Hryshchenia was interrogated as a suspect. The same day the ruling about bringing a criminal case was handed to a youth activist from Salihorsk Ivan Shyla by an investigator of Salihorsk district prosecutor’s office Vitold Aliakseyeu. Shyla was interrogated as well. His father refused to give testimony against his son. After the interrogation 2 KGB workers searched the Shylas’ apartment.
The trial of Barys Haretski, Zmitser Khvedaruk, Aleh Korban, Nasta Palazhanka and Aliaksei Yanusheuski was open and the present public could see that the accusation had no evidence. When the prosecutor demanded to sentence each activist to about 7 250 US dollars fine it became clear that the activists will not be imprisoned. On 29 May Barys Haretski, Aleh Korban and Aliaksey Yanusheuski were fined about 435 US dollars, Zmitser Khvedaruk – about 580 dollars and the minor Nasta Palazhanka received a warning. The activists disagree with the verdict and are going to appeal it to a higher court.
- Right to association
On 4 May the Supreme Court satisfied the suit of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of the national NGO Belarusian Literary Fund. The judge Valery Samaliuk explained the verdict by saying that during its activity the NGO made several violations of the legislation and its own charter and received three written warnings for it in 2006.
The organization refused summons to court just one day before the trial. The council of Belarusian Literary Fund applied to the Supreme Court with the request to postpone the trial, because according to article 143 of the Civil Process Code summons to trial is to be served with consideration of the time necessary for preparation to the trial and directing representatives to it. However, the court rejected the petition, thus committing a process violation.
According to the director of Belarusian Literary Fund Ales Danilchyk, the administration of the fund took into account all admonitions of the Ministry of Justice and corrected all defects in its activity. However, the Supreme Court was not interested in listening to the official representatives of the organization and issued the verdict the same day on the basis of its own opinion. The verdict is final and can not be appealed. Belarusian Literary Fund owned Islach sanatorium in Valozhyn district of Minsk region. It has already been put to an auction.
- Right to peaceful assembly
Minsk city executive committee banned pickets in support of the political prisoner Andrei Klimau. The applications for the pickets on 21 and 22 May were filed by the deputy chair of the United Civil Party Ihar Shynkaryk. The authorities motivated their refusal with the fact that according to the law On public actions it is inadmissible to hold any actions less than 50 meters away from the prosecutor’s office and ‘the territories of the organizations which are responsible for state defense, security and vital activity of the population’.
Hrodna city executive committee refused to the UCP activists Yury Istomin, Uladzimir Laryn and Viktar Padchynionkau in holding on 11 May in the center of Hrodna pickets against the destruction of the Old Town. During the pickets the activists intended to collect people’s signatures under a letter to the prosecutor’s office, the chair of Hrodna regional executive committee and Lukashenka’s administration to protest against the barbarian ‘reconstruction’ of the historical center of the city.
‘It is already the third refusal we get during the last three months. Now we can state for sure that the authorities of Hrodna put any public actions of democratic forces under a ban,’ commented the chair of Hrodna regional organization of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin. He also stated that as one of the next steps for protection of the historical heritage the public would sue the city administration. ‘We have no illusions concerning our courts, but we must go through all instances for protection of our rights’, stated Istomin.
On 14 May the administrator of the Belarusian rock-band Krama Pavel Kashyryn applied to Minsk city executive committee with the request to issue to the band a tour certificate for holding a concert in one of Minsk club on 30 May. According to him, the club administration refused to hold the concert after a telephone call from the executive committee. At the same time, the culture department of the executive committee sent to the organizers of the concert-presentation of a new Krama album a refusal to issue the tour certificate grounded on the ‘opinion’ of the ideological department of the presidential administration, according to which Krama songs are of a low artistic value. It is worth mentioning that in 1994 Krama was recognized as the Best group of Belarus at Rock-Crown festival and won the first prize at Pokoleniye festival in Moscow.
According to P.Kashyryn, soon the concert organizers will make several appeals to the public including Belarusian and foreign musicians, press and politicians concerning the concert prohibition.
- Liberty of speech
On 4 May workers of Hrodna customs office exacted from the activist of Belarusian Independent Trade Union Aliaksandr Tkachou 281 copies of the newspaper of the Polish trade union of miners because decree #47 On restriction of materials handling the newspaper was to have been transported by a freight carrier (despite the fact that the newspapers weighed less than 5 kilos). The newspaper contained an article about a meeting of Polish and Belarusian miners and signing of a cooperation treaty between the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners and the Polish Trade Union of Miners.
- Visa restrictions
The deputy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Lithuanian Parliament Emmanuelis Zingeris intended to take part in the Congress of Democratic Forces, but was denied visa. At the previous congress which was held in October 2005 Zingeris made quite critical statements related to the Belarusian authorities. The PACE deputy is sure that this is the reason why the Belarusian embassy in Lithuania refused to issue a visa to him.