Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in September 2007
In September the democratic opposition of Belarus was preparing to the autumn actions, the European and the Social marches, to demand from the authorities the realization of the social guarantees and familiarize the population with the EU proposals to Belarus and the conditions in which they could come into effect. On 30 September the United democratic forces intended to hold mass pickets all over Belarus. Official applications for authorization of these actions were filed in more than 60 towns and cities of Belarus. One day Salihorsk district executive committee received about a hundred of picket applications, half of which were aimed at protesting against the present social policy, the liquidation of social benefits and guarantees and others – at collection of signatures under the demand to release political prisoners.
All in all, the trade unions and democratic forces of Belarus applied for 458 pickets, but only 2 applications were satisfied, one in Brest and the other in Navahrudak. Then the organizers of the Social march decided to come out in the streets and hand out the Tovarishch newspaper (the printed organ of the Party of Communists of Belarus), because it was published in conformity with the present legislation and had the output data on. They also collected signatures against the liquidation of social guarantees. The activists intended to pass these signatures to the upcoming session of the parliament. On 27 September the police confiscated 14 000 copies of Tovarishch. On 30 September, the Nationwide Social Picket day, many democratic activists, public and political activists were attentively watched by the police. Some of them were detained and then fined or arrested. In particular, the police drew standard reports for ‘dirty swearing’ against the chair of Hrodna oblast office of the United Civil Party Andrei Yanushkevich and the leader of Hrodna office of the Young Democrats Yury Istomin.
In September youth activists remained in the focus of attention: there continued criminal trials and interrogations of the regional Young Front activists, the police and KGB searched their apartments. During the trials the police were dispersing those who came to support the defendants, detained and beat them. Some of the detainees were then fined and/or imprisoned.
On 17 August near the settlement of Kosava in Brest oblast the police detained 16 youth activists who made a summer camp near a national hero Tadevush Kastsiushka’s manor. All of them were charged with violation of article 17.1 of the Administrative Code, petty hooliganism. According to the police witness Dulia, the youth behaved indecently and swore dirtily. On 20 September the first court sitting in the case of the deputy chair of the BPF Party Illia Bohdan took place. The trial was postponed to 8 October as the accusation witnesses did not come to the trial.
Starting from 30 August the trials of participants of the presentation of a former political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets’ book were taking place. Bear in mind that the presentation had been dispersed by the police, with about 30 persons detained and police reports drawn against 14 of them. Two people were warned, five – fined and one received 15 days of jail.
Thus, despite all statements and demands of the European and international structures the Belarusian authorities continue using the Administrative Code for pressurization and punishment of youth activists who peacefully exercise their right to assemblies, associations and opinions.
- Administrative detentions and punishments of public and political activists
On 8 September the police detained about 30 persons at informal celebration of the 493rd anniversary of the battle near Orsha. On 9 September near the village of Hatskaushchyna in Orsha district they detained 17 more. While the police were checking the detainees’ passport data at the district police department of Orsha somebody threw out of the window the official red-green state flag. The policemen qualified it as ‘petty hooliganism’ and composed the appropriate reports against a well-known artist Ales Pushkin and a youth activist Aliaksei Yanusheuski. On 12 September Orsha district court sentenced them to 7 days of jail.
On 9 September on the Ukrainian border the customs officers drew on a public activist Siarhei Siamionau an administrative report for insubordination to their ‘legal demands’. Siamionau just demanded from them to issue to him a customs declaration blank in Belarusian. At first the trial was appointed on 24 September, but then it was postponed to 4 October without any explanations. The activist associates it with a great public resonance around his case and the remarks of the heads of the Supreme and the Constitutional courts of Belarus. On 18 September the chair of the Constitutional court of Belarus Ryhor Vasilevich stated that ‘nobody abolished responsibility for disrespect to the Belarusian language’. He drew Siamionau’s situation as an example and said that such things were inadmissible. Bear in mind, that on 30 August Siarhei Siamionau was fined 930 000 Belarusian rubles (about 432 US dollars) for refusal to fill the customs declaration in Russian.
On 25 September Navapolatsk city court punished the activists who had collected signatures for revoking the MPs from Navapolatsk. The court qualified it as violation of articles 9 and 10 of the Administrative Code. Valery Shauchenka was fined 1 085 000 Belarusian rubles (about 505 US dollars), Ihar Sukharukau was fined 930 000 rubles (about 432 dollars) and Anton Yasinovich – 775 000 rubles (about 360 dollars).
On 26 September the judge of Kastryhcnitski district court of Hrodna Liudmila Zhuk found a student Yauhen Skrabutan guilty of ‘dirty swearing’ (article 17.1 of the Administrative Code) and sentenced him to 5 days of arrest. During the detention the police found in Yauhen’s bag stickers with the logo of the European march. At the trial the confiscated stickers were not even mentioned.
On 26 September the judge of Maskouski district court of Brest Volha Smirnova considered an administrative case against an activist of For Freedom movement Andrei Sharenda and sentenced him to 15 days of jail for ‘participation in unauthorized action’ (on 19 August Sharenda attended the presentation of Pavel Seviarynets’ book).
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 4 September in Salihorsk and Niasvizh and on 10 September in Baranavichy the criminal trials of the activists of an unregistered NGO Young Front took place. Ivan Shyla, Anastasiya Azarka and Yaraslau Hryshchenia were charged under article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activity of religious, public organization or fund, that had not passed the state registration, or participation in it). Azarka was fined 1 240 000 rubles (about 577 dollars), Hryshchenia – 930 000 rubles and Shyla who was under age was just warned. Despite these relatively mild sentences the criminal prosecution of the Young Front still continues. On 27 September Andrei Tsianiuta from Homel received a note that he was a suspect in the criminal case against the Young Front. KGB workers searched the apartment of 17-year-old Kiryl Atamanchyk from Zhlobin and on 21 September summonsed him for an interrogation.
Youth activists were not admitted to the trials of the Young Front activists. In Salihorsk and Baranavichy the police detained and beat those who gathered outside the courts. Then some of the detainees were fined and/or arrested.
On 5 September the judge of Salihorsk court Burautsou fined Viktar Dzianisevich, Katsiaryna Halitskaya and Zmitser Karnou 155 000 rubles (72 US dollars) each. Zmitser Yatskevich was warned. Liudmila Atakulava and Ales Kalita were sentenced to 7 days of jail. On 10 September the police detained 24 public activists and journalists near the court of Baranavichy. All of them were released, only Pavel Seviarynets was sentenced to 17 days of jail and fined 620 000 rubles (about 288 dollars). The former political prisoner was charged with resistance to the police, organization of an unauthorized action and hooliganism. The first accusation resulted in 2 days of jail, the second brought the other 15 and for the third he was fined.
In the beginning of September we learned that on 1 August an oppositional leader and opponent of the present regime Andrei Klimau was judged for an internet article. The trial was closed. The judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Alena Iliina found Klimau guilty under part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code (the calls to the actions that are aimed at damage to the external security of the Republic of Belarus, its sovereignty, territorial inviolability, national security and defensive capacity that were performed with the aid of mass media) and sentenced him to 2 years in a high security prison. Since 3 April Klimau was kept in the investigative isolator in Valadarski Street in Minsk. It’s the first time when such punishment is given for a web publication.
A criminal case under article 402 of the Criminal Code was brought against the leader of the Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich after his refusal to testify in a criminal case against another member of the Young Front¸ Ivan Shyla.
- Right to association
The Ministry of Justice sued to the Supreme Court for liquidation of the Belarusian Women’s Party Nadzeya. The leader of the party Alena Yaskova thinks that the ministry has no legal grounds for such an action and associates this suit with the activity of the Union of Left Parties, which was denied registration by the ministry. The liquidation trial was appointed on 9 October.
On 20 September the Supreme Court turned down the complaint of the republican NGO For Freedom against the second refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. The court explained its decision thusly: the NGO transferred the court fee to the local budget, not to the republican budget, as the law demands.
On 21 September the founders of the public human rights association Viasna complained to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. In their complaint they stated that the ministry’s arguments contradicted to the present legislation.
- Freedom of word and the right to distribute information
On 27 September the editorial office of the Tovarishch newspaper was invaded by ordinary policemen dressed uniform and mufti and the riot police. The policemen exacted 24 sheaves of the newspaper (9 600 copies). They said that they had to do it because this number had been printed not in Smolensk, as it was specified in the output data, but in an underground printing house in Belarus. The number had the circulation of 30 000 copies, was dedicated to the Social march and was destined for handing out at the 30 September pickets.
On 27 September the chair of the educational department of Baranavichy city executive committee Ihar Stasevich refused to give information to a journalist of a non-state newspaper Intex-press Natallia Semianovich, who was preparing an article on the occasion of the Teacher’s Day. The official stated that information about the number of teachers who worked in Baranavichy schools was secret.
In September the prosecutor’s office issued to the independent journalists Ales Karniyenka, Natallia Makushyna and Ivan Roman official warnings about inadmissibility of work for foreign mass media without accreditation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ales Karniyenka and Ivan Roman were accused of cooperation with the radio stations Radio Racyja and Natallia Makushyna – with the Deutshche Welle.
- Politically motivated firings and expulsions from universities
On 7 September a student Zmitser Zhaleznichenka, activist of the youth wing of the Belarusian People’s Front Party, was expelled from Homel State University because of ‘systematical violation of the internal regulations of the university’. The third-year student Zhaleznichenka showed an excellent progress at the mathematical faculty of Homel University. The activist associates his expulsion with public and political activities and intends to sue the university administration. He has already filed a complaint with the education minister Aliaksandr Radzkou.
On 27 September Volha Kazulina, the elder daughter of a former candidate for presidency Aliaksandr Kazulin, was sacked from Alaktiv private enterprise for alleged absenteeism. ‘I was simply thrown out without the wage for the last four months. I fulfilled duties well enough and can only guess why the enterprise manager Siarhei Barysau started a real war against me,’ Kazulina pointed. Now she intends to sue the enterprise.
- Freedom of conscience
On 23 September the police and representatives of Zhodzina town executive committee came to a divine service of the St. Trinity Church and drew a protocol of administrative violation. They accused the church of illegal seizure of the piece of land and building a church there. According to the pastor V.Luhouski, the confrontation between the local authorities and the Evangelic Christians of the St. Trinity Church has lasted for a long time already.
- Persecution of public and political leaders
On 17 September the deputy chair of the Talaka NGO, an activist of the youth wing of the Belarusian People’s Front Party Zmitser Zhaleznichenka was detained by the policemen Faih Aha-Ali Askerau and Raman Sivets on suspicion in rape. Later the police drew on him administrative reports under articles 17.1 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code – dirty swearing in public place and insubordination to the legal demands of the police. On 18 September the judge of Tsentralny district court of Homel Maryna Damnenka sentenced Zhaleznichenka to 8 days of jail and fined him 620 000 rubles (288 dollars).
On 25 September the chair of the organizing committee of the European march, the deputy chair of the Belarusian People’s Front Party Viktar Ivashkevich and the deputy chair of the Party of Communists of Belarus Valery Ukhnaliou were arrested near a café in the center of Minsk where they celebrated Ivashkevich’s birthday. Later Ukhnaliou was released. Two reports were drawn against Ivashkevich, one for ‘public drunkedness’ and the other for ‘violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions’ because of alleged distribution of leaflets with invitation to take part in the European march at the sobering up station where he was taken by the police. On 26 September Pershamaiski district court of Minsk considered the administrative case against Ivashkevich and returned the police reports for correction.
On 30 September the riot police tried to burst into the apartment of the chairman of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka and a bus with riot policemen paid visits to the places where many democratic activists lived. The day before the police paid a visit to the porch of the house where a UCP activist Nadzeya Palevikova lived. They asked her neighbors questions about her private life and distributed defaming information about her. Now Valiantsina Palevikova intends to sue the police.
- Right to legal initiative
On 10 September the Supreme Court turned down the complaint of an initiative group of citizens who intended to collect signatures for abolishment of the contract system of employment. In their suit they asked to abolish the ruling of the Central Election Commission on non-registration of their initiative group, and the draft laws On amendment of the Labor Code of Belarus and On ratification of the Convention #158 concerning Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer. The court found the CEC decision about illegitimacy of the constituent assembly of the citizens groundless, but stated that the proposals of the initiative group on amendment of the labor code were illegal, thus leaving the CEC ruling in force.