Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in June 2007
In June the Belarusian authorities again clearly showed their reluctance to change their course and initiate any democratic transformations in the country. Parole to several political prisoners and mild sentences on the criminal case against five members of Young Front were just an attempt to simulate democratization in response to insistent demands of the US and the EU. In fact, fundamental changes are impossible within a totalitarian system as they lead to its collapse. That’s why in June the authorities stopped concessions and continued the policy of bans, intimidation and suppression of freedoms and liberties. The Parliament did not receive the draft law on amnesty during its last session. As a result this issue will remain unsolved till the autumn session.
On 21 June the ruling of the EU Council of Ministers to exclude Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences came into force. This system includes a number of customs preferences that are given by developed countries to the developing countries that respect human rights including the rights of trade unions.
The decision to exclude Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences was adopted on 20 December 2006. Belarus was given 6 months to implement the recommendations of the International Labor Organization and stop systematic violations of the rights of trade unions. However, at the International conference of labor, held in Geneva 30 May to 15 June 2007 Belarus for the fifth time was included in a special paragraph of the ILO report noting ‘the absence of progress in the field of the right to association’ in the country.
At the same time, the European Union expressed its readiness to review the question of preferences in case Belarus implemented its undertaking as an ILO member and improved the situation of trade-unions’ rights. Before Belarus the trade preferences were abolished only for Burma.
- Administrative punishment of participants of peaceful actions
On 4 June Tsentralny borough court of Minsk tried six youth activists who had been detained on 1 June near Niamiha tube station during a performance against repeal of social benefits. The riot police violently dispersed the action. Some of its participants were beaten with truncheons and fists, the policemen twisted their arms and knocked them down. The detainees were taken first to Tsentralny borough police department of Minsk and then to the detention center in Akrestsin Street. They were charged with violation of the order of holding mass actions (article 23.24 of the Criminal Code). Judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk sentenced Vadzim Baravik, Aliaksandr Barazenka, Pavel Chumakou, Pavel Markevich and Pavel Viltouski to three days of jail and Pavel Vinahradau – to 5 days.
On 15 June an administrative commission fined an activist of Hrodna regional organization of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Laryn 620 000 rubles (about 282 US dollars) because he had allegedly posted a sticker with invitation to Chernobyl Way action, thus violating paragraph 15 of sanitation rules. Laryn was detained in the night of 22 April near Hrodna regional executive committee and was kept at the police department for about 2 hours. He was summonsed to the administrative commission almost 2 months after the detention.
In June the youth activist Zmitser Lisiyenka received three administrative punishments in Vitsebsk. On 9 June Kastrychnitski borough court of Vitsebsk sentenced him to 3 days of arrest for ‘Freedom to Kazulin!’ graffiti. On 11 June he was fined about 282 US dollars by Kastrychnitski borough court of Vitsebsk for defending the girls and women whom police violently dispersed near a court during a trial of a well-known human rights activist Valery Shchukin. On 19 June Kastrychnitski court also fined Lisiyenka about 141 US dollars for ‘Freedom to Shchukin!’ graffiti on the building of Vitsebsk regional police department.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 8 June Pershamaiski borough court of Vitsebsk sentenced the human rights activist and journalist Valery Shchukin to pay 1 240 000 rubles (about 565 US dollars) fine and 250 000 rubles (about 115 dollars) as moral compensation to a member of an election commission Tatsiana Buyevich. 65-year-old human rights activist was found guilty of having insulted members and workers of election commission during the election to local deputy soviets of the 25th convocation (article 189 of the Criminal Code) that allegedly manifested in distribution of self-produced leaflets with information about manipulations of the election results by these officials. Besides, the court sentenced him to pay 170 000 rubles (about 80 US dollars) that he allegedly had not paid for participation in March of Freedom action in 1999.
Pershamaiski borough prosecutor’s office of Vitsebsk appealed the court verdict and demanded a harder sentence for Shchukin.
A youth activist Artur Finkevich was denied parole. On 4 June he was asked to sign the decision of the commission on parole, dated 14 March. There it was said that Finkevich could not be granted parole because of his being a malignant violator of the internal regulations of the labor facility where he was serving his term.
The youth activist has been sentenced to two years of personal restraint by Pershamaiski borough court of Minsk for political graffiti and is now kept at special commandant’s office #43 in Mahiliou.
The leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich is serving a sentence for ‘activity on behalf of unregistered organization’ (article 193.1 of the Criminal Code). On 27 June he was also denied parole because of reprimands for violations of the daily regime and the norms of closing.
- Freedom of associations
On 1 June at the office of the BPF Party members of the establishing public association Young Front conducted a constituent assembly. Then they again passed documents for registration to the justice department of Minsk city executive committee. In May the officials refused to register the organization because of alleged mismatches in the charter, according to which central council was the supreme governing body of the organization, whereas the documents were filed on behalf of the constituent assembly. Bear in mind that it is already the fifth registration attempt for Young Front. All previous attempts failed.
- Right to peaceful assembly
Vitsebsk city executive committee refused to authorize pickets in support of a political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin. An appropriate request was filed on 5 June by the chair of Vitsebsk city organization of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Volha Shpakouskaya. In the answer of the city authorities signed by the deputy chair of Vitsebsk city executive committee Pavel Losich the applicant was told that ‘the city’s community raised no questions concerning the sentence to A.Kazulin. The former candidate to presidency was not tried in Vitsebsk, that’s why the picket you have applied for is of no interest.’
- Freedom of word
On 6 June in Minsk unknown persons in mufti detained the youth activists Siarhei Kastylenka and Mikalai Siarheyenka while they were distributing the human rights bulletin Right to Freedom and 6 Square Meters newspaper. At the same time workers of the guard department of Savetski borough police department of Minsk detained Anton Marozau and Stsiapan Varyshkevich and took them to Tsentralny borough police department. There the policemen composed on the detainees administrative reports registering distribution of printed production including no output data and then released them.
On 7 June in Hrodna the police detained distributors of a registered newspaper Nasha Slova, founded by Belarusian Language Society (BLS). The activists of a public campaign Let’s Save Hrodna Viktar Barnashou and Yaraslau Hryshchenia distributed a newspaper issue that was fully dedicated to the so-called reconstruction of Hrodna (destruction of the Old Town) near the local university. At that time the university hosted a round table on this issue, with participation of the local authorities and representatives of public circles. Only in two hours did the police find that the newspaper was legal and the detainees’ actions were legal. A local correspondent of the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty Siarhei Astrautsou wanted to photograph the moment of detention, but the police did not let him do it.
At the same time, the university guards did not admit to the round table an independent journalist Ales Zaleuski and the author of an alternative reconstruction project for Hrodna, Andrei Vashkevich. The explanation was that their surnames were absent in some lists. When the people asked who had composed these ‘lists’ and how they could get to the event, the university provost Tatsiana Badziukova called the police who lead out the journalist and the historian out of the university.
The Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus adopted in the first reading amendments to a number of laws on issues of state service. The law regulates the order and conditions of public appearances and interviews with state officials connected to their official duties. ‘The law provides, that the expediency of such publications and appearances is to be determined by the person who heads the appropriate state organ or an empowered official’, stated that director of the National center on law drafting Valery Mitskevich. He also said that this law was necessary because of ‘situations, when state officials as representatives of state organs tell their own versions on certain issues that do not match the opinion of the state organs’. ‘Thus, in case an official is my subordinate, he would have to get my permission to comment something or publish his article’, Mitskevich added.
In connection with introduction of such restrictions to contacts with journalists the council of the public association Belarusian Association of Journalists applied to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly and to the Soviet of Republic with the call to exclude from the draft law these regulations because of their contradiction to the Constitution.
- Freedom of conscience
On 3 June the police detained a pastor of Minsk church of Evangel Christians of Ian the Precursor Antoni Bokun during ministration of the Holy Communion in a building that was rented by the church. The policemen refused to introduce themselves and tell the reasons for his detention. On 4 June Tsentralny borough court of Minsk sentenced the pastor to 3 days of jail for ‘unsanctioned liturgy’. Antoni Bokun appealed the verdict to Minsk city court and on 26 June received a refusal. The pastor also said that on 25 June he received a refusal in renting of the National House of Culture of Railway Workers for divine services because of ‘impossibility to combine the weekly masses of the religious communion with the main directions of the activity of the Culture House aimed at cultural serving of the population.’
On 15 June Miadzel district court considered an appeal of a Protestant pastor, citizen of Poland Yarolsaw Lukasik against the ruling of Miadzel district police department of 8 May for annulment of his residence permit.
On 25 June Tsentralny borough court of Minsk considered Lukasik’s appeal against the ruling of the head of Tsentralny borough police department of Minsk of 30 May according to which the pastor was punished for ‘unauthorized liturgy’ and ordered to leave the country. Judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk turned the complaint down. After this Lukasik’s family, wife and three children, followed the deported pastor and moved to Poland.
7. Labor rights
On 26 June the Central Election Commission of Belarus refused to register an initiative group for collection of signatures for abolishment of the contract system of employment. The main reason is that the Ministry of Justice gave a negative evaluation to the draft law that was prepared by the initiative group. In private, the ministry stated that the draft law on amendment of the Labor Code with the aim to abolish contracts contradicted to the Constitution, as the Constitution ‘gives priority to presidential decrees in comparison to laws, and presidential decree #29 lets employers use the contract system of employment without any restrictions’.
Let us remind you that the contract system of employment that was introduced by presidential decree #29 contradicts to the Labor Code and the international norms. Trade Union of Radio Electronic Trade is one of the initiators of the legal initiative for collection of signatures for abolishment of contracts. The trade union lawyers prepared a justification of the necessity to amend the Labor Code and ratify ILO Convention #158 Concerning Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer.
The constituent assembly of the initiative group took place on 1 May and was attended by people from all parts of Belarus. ‘We disagree with the verdict and therefore will apply to court’, stated the leader of the Belarusian Trade Union of Radio Electronic Trade Henadz Fiadynich.