Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in July-August 2007
During the last two summer months the Belarusian authorities continued persecuting democratic activists: policemen groundlessly detained people without composing detention reports or accused them in administrative violations. Despite the summer season the Belarusian opposition continued active work and preparation to autumn actions including the European March appointed on 14 October and the Social March. Democratic activists distributed agitation materials with the aim to inform citizens about the marches. Besides, during this period the democratic circles celebrated an important date of the Belarusian history, 27 July. This day in 1990 the deputies of the Belarusian Parliament of the 12th Convocation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty.
At first the organizers of the action dedicated to the 17th anniversary of the declaration intended to hold a rock concert in Banhalor Square. However, the authorities refused to authorize the concert because of ‘preparation of Banhalor Square to the 940th birthday of Minsk’.
On the eve of the 27 July action, on 20-24 July the police arrested more 15 youth activists for several days. Several times more people were detained for several hours. Some of the youth activists were arrested twice.
At the end of August a human rights organization Amnesty International condemned these official actions and called the Belarusian authorities to stop penalizing the youth activists who peacefully use their right to association and expression. Besides, the human rights activists called on the authorities to review the laws, decrees and methods for registration of non-governmental organizations, including article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, and put these normative acts in line with the international standards.
The authorities continued non-registering the NGOs that applied for registration. On 10 July the justice department of Minsk city executive committee again refused to register Minsk city organization Young Front. The officials disliked one of the methods of the organization’s work, mass actions. As a result on 2 August the organizing committee of Young Front sued the justice department. On 23 August the public human rights association Viasna was refused registration as well.
Instead, the Ministry of Justice reported about registration of two new public associations in July: the International public youth choir association Camertone and the public association of amateurs of downhill skiing and snowboard headed by the deputy chair of the presidential administration Natallia Piatkevich.
- Administrative detentions and penalties to public and political activists
On 4 July Tsentralny district court of Minsk ruled to sentence Ales Kalita and Pavel Seradnenka to 15 and 10 days of July for petty hooliganism (article 17.1 of the Administrative Code). The policemen detained them on 3 July near the office of the BPF Party during an attempt to prevent the detention of a youth activist Anastasiya Aleksandrovich.
On 24 July in Minsk the police detained the democratic activists Pavel Baranouski and Aliaksei Shydlouski for sticking leaflets about the 17th anniversary of the State Sovereignty Declaration. On 25 July Partyzanski district court of Minsk sentenced Shydlouski to 15 days of jail under article 17.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism). On 8 August Partyzanski court sentenced Baranouski to three days of jail under the same article. The same day Shydlouski was tried repeatedly and sentenced to five days of jail for alleged dirty swearing on the police. On 24 August Pavel Baranouski was fined 186 000 Belarusian rubles (about 86 US dollars) under paragraph 46 of the sanitation rules of Minsk for sticking leaflets.
On 24 July the opposition activists Pavel Seviarynets and Aliaksei Shein were sentenced to 15 days of jail under article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of organization or holding mass actions). Seviarynets and Shein handed out leaflets with invitations to the oppositional actions of 27 July.
On 19 august a presentation of two books by Pavel Seviarynets took place at the Brest office of the BPF Party. The police burst into the office and rudely detained about 30 participants of the event. On 22 August Maskouski district court of Brest sentenced Pavel Seviarynets to 15 days of jail under part 3 of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (repeated violation of the order of organization or holding mass actions within a year’s term).
On 29 August Chyhunachny district court of Homel fined a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Kanstantsin Zhukouski 930 000 Belarusian rubles (about 432 US dollars) for insult of an official on duty and also sentenced him to 5 days of jail for disrespect to court. The matter is that on 9 August Zhukouski came to Chyhunachny district police department of Homel to represent the interests of a detained activist Andrei Tsianiuta. The policemen refused him in this right. Then Zhukouski demanded from them the book of complaints. In response they composed a violation report against him and passed it to court. The court fined him. Some of Zhukouski’s expressions at the trial were qualified as disrespect to court. That’s why the activist was also sentenced to five days of jail.
- Right to peaceful assembly
On 14 August in Mahiliou the police burst into a private house in Chkalau Street where a meeting of youth activists was taking place. The meeting was attended by about 30 persons including three citizens of Germany and Poland. According to a meeting participant Zmitser Salauiou the policemen behaved boldly. They twisted arms to one of the present journalists and took away her camera. After checking the passports the police released the meeting participants. Foreign citizens were warned against visiting the house in Chkalau Street again for the fear of deportation. The Belarusian youth activists prepared an appeal against the lawless actions of the police who had entered the house without any warrants.
Minsk city executive committee gave one refusal for the five applications for picketing sent by the deputy chair of the council of the BPF Youth Siarzhuk Semianiuk. Since the beginning of July Siarzhuk has been submitting to the committee several applications a week with the aim to get a picket authorized. The authorities explain their one (!) refusal for his five applications with the fact that the picket will allegedly hinder the passers-by, the public traffic and the workers of Frunzenski district court of Minsk that is situated near the place of the picket.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
In July-August the authorities continued the criminal persecution of the regional activists of an unregistered youth organization Young Front. A criminal case against a Salihorsk activist of Young Front Ivan Shyla was passed to court. A criminal case under the same article, 193.1 (activities on behalf of unregistered organization) was brought against a youth activist from Niasvizh Anastasiya Azarka. On 7 August she was given official charges. Yaraslau Hryshchenia, an activist from Baranavichy, was also charged under article 193.1. The three trials were appointed on September.
The prosecutor’s office of Baranavichy brought a criminal case concerning the ‘Stop persecuting Young Front!’ and ‘Stop persecuting democratic youth!’ graffiti on the city court. On 10 August in Baranavichy the police detained an activist of the local Young Front branch Viktar Parnachou. The police confiscated from him a paint balloon and composed a detention and a confiscation report.
On 14 August a criminal case against the founder of self-made weekly Boykiy Kletsk Siarhei Panamarou was reopened. The case was brought on 14 May under part 2 of article 188 ‘defamation in public speech or mass media’.
On 28 August Minsk city court left unchanged the verdict of Leninski district court of Minsk to sentence a researcher of the Academy of Sciences Kanstantsin Lukashou to two years of jail conditionally for alleged knocking down a policeman.
- Tortures and other kinds of inhumane treatment
On 28 July a Ukrainian band Okean Elzy performed in Hrodna within the limits of a promotion tour of the mobile telephone campaign Velcom. The riot police beat and fractured an arm to Aliaksandr Shumkevich, a leader of the youth wing of the United Civil Party Young Democrats. The incident took place fifteen minutes before the end of the concert, when Shumkevich raised a white-red-white flag. The policemen also composed a report against him. He was accused of dirty swearing. The activist spent a day in the isolator without medical assistance. After a medical examination Shumkevich was taken to a hospital. The activist has already appealed the act of police violence to Leninski district police department of Hrodna.
On 16 August, a Solidarity Day, the riot policemen in mufti tried to detain a youth leader Mikita Sasim. Two his friends tried to prevent his detention. The riot policemen violently beat one of them, Tatsiana Tsishkevich and inflicted a cranial trauma to her. The girl took a course of medical treatment. It is already the second case when she is beaten by the police. She received the first cranial trauma in May 2007 at a peaceful action against the repeal of social benefits to students.
- Right to association
On 23 August the Ministry of Justice refused to register the human rights public association Viasna for a number of formal reasons. One of them is that the organization charter allegedly is not in line with the norms of the law of the Republic of Belarus On public associations. Another reason is that the name of the NGO ‘is essentially equal to the name of a previously liquidated one, which is inadmissible’. The liquidation letter was signed by the chair of the public organizations department of the Ministry of Justice Aleh Slizheuski. Besides, ‘according to the information of the Ministry of Interior 20 of the 69 co-founders of the association have administrative punishments’.
By the way, in the beginning of August the UN Human Rights Committee declared the liquidation of the Human Rights Center Viasna in October 2003 a violation of part 1 of article 22 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. By its decision the Committee obliged the Belarusian authorities to restore the registration to the organization and pay compensations to its members. The authorities ignore this document.
In August the Ministry of Justice issued official warnings to six political parties: the Belarusian Social Sportive Party, the Belarusian Green Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), the BPF Party, the Social Democratic Party of People’s Consent and the Republican Party. The reason for the warning is that the parties do not have the legally established minimum of regional structures. In the case they fail to correct this deficiency, they can be closed or suspended.
- The activity of secret services
On 29 August the Belarusian Association of Journalists learned that the KGB workers held a series of interrogations of young journalists in the regions of Belarus concerning their frequent trips to Poland.
- Freedom of speech and the right to distribute information
The commission on human rights, national relations and mass media of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus considers that the procedure of getting an agreement of the local authorities to placement of the obligatory legal address of mass media does not violate the freedom to establish mass media. On the contrary, the deputies believe it to ‘favor the solution of local issues from the view of the common interests of the state and the population’. This is a quotation from an answer received by the Belarusian Association of Journalists to their request for explanation of article 10 of the law On press and other mass media according to which in order to obtain state registration a mass media needs a document confirming the agreement of the local authorities to placement of its legal address.
- Entrance bans to representatives of the international community
On 15 August at the crossing point Bruzgi the Belarusian border guards banned entrance to Belarus for the vice-speaker of the Polish Senate Krzystof Putra, the leader of the oppositional party Civil Platform Donald Tusk and a deputy of the Polish Senate Robert Tyszkevicz. The Polish politicians were going to Belarus for participation in the celebration of the Day of the Polish Army by the Polish minority of Hrodna. The Foreign Ministry of Poland expressed to the extraordinary and plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus in Poland Pavel Latushka its protest against the entrance ban to the Polish MPs.
- Freedom of conscience
On 27 July the activists of a campaign for protection of the freedom of conscience Zmitser Butenka and Andrei Litvinau, members of Minsk New Life Church of the association of denominations of full evangel Christians in Republic of Belarus, planned to conduct people’s signatures for amendment of the law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations. The police detained them and checked their bags. In Litvinau’s bag they found 28 copies of a courier of the campaign for protection of the freedom of conscience. The activists were taken to Maskouski district police department of Minsk. There the policemen composed on them a report for distribution of printed periodicals without output data (article 22.9 of the Administrative Code).
The campaign for protection of the freedom of conscience started on 22 April. Its organizers collect signatures under an open letter to president, the Parliament and the Constitutional Court with a call to put the law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations in line with the Constitution.
- Persecution of democratic activists
On 26 August the police came to the Homel office of the UCP during a meeting of the activists of different public organizations with a pastor Ernest Sabila. The activists had to let the police in despite of absence of warrants because the policemen threatened to smash the doors otherwise. One of the policemen shot the office with a video camera. Seven participants of the meeting were detained for ‘identification’. Homel regional UCP organization applied to the chair of Chyhunachny district police department and to Chyhunachny district prosecutor’s office with the request to give a legal evaluation to these actions of the police, conduct a check-up and punish the persons who allegedly had given false information to the police that a criminal had been hiding at the UCP office.