Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in October 2007
On 14 October a democratic street action ‘European March’ took place in Belarus. Its aim was to demonstrate the European choice of the Belarusian society. On 9 October Minsk city executive committee permitted the action, but, as it usually happens in Belarus, changed the place of assembly and the destination of the procession. At first the organizers intended to gather the action participants at 2 p.m. in Kastrychnitskaya Square and lead the procession along the Independent Avenue to the National Library. Minsk city executive committee insisted on change of the route and proposed the traditional one: from the Academy of Sciences to Bangalore Square.
The European March was held under the slogans ‘Fulfillment of 12 EU Proposals is Guarantee of Economical and Energy Security’, ‘For Freedom! For Belarus!’, ‘For European Values!’, etc. The authorities again used the administrative code for preventive arrests of public and political activists. 25 oppositionists were preventively arrested in different towns and cities of Belarus for alleged ‘dirty swearing in public’. Among them there was one of the action organizers, Yauhen Afnahel. Many representatives of the opposition from the Belarusian regions did not manage to take part in the European March. For instance, the police detained a car with activists from Salihorsk. The minibus of the entrepreneur Aliaksandr Tsedura was detained by the police who allegedly suspected that some numbers on the carbody were forged and needed checking.
As a result the foreign politicians condemned the activities of the Belarusian authorities on the eve of the European march. The chair of the European Parliament delegation on relations with Belarus Bogdan Klich stated that such actions did not correspond to the statements of the Belarusians authorities about their readiness to develop relations with the EU. He called the authorities to stop the repressions. The representative of the US Department of State Tom Casey expressed his concern with the preventive arrests and detentions of activists of the Belarusian opposition. The foreign ministry of Poland condemned the arrest of representatives of the Union of Poles in Belarus on the eve of the demonstration. The trial of the UPB chair Anzhalika Borys was closed. She was found guilty of dirty swearing and fined 460 000 rubles (about 209 USD).
On 20 October in many regions of Belarus the actions dedicated to the Day of commemoration of victims of Stalin’s repressions took place. Now it is the 70th anniversary of the peak of Stalin’s terror. The authorities treated such measures with fear, that’s why often they were watched the police. In Vitsebsk 27 activists were detained after the action and five of them were charged with organization of an unauthorized mass action.
Since 29 October till 1 November the President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Souhayr Belhassen had an official visit in Belarus. She met with representatives of the civil society, but also wanted to meet with the officials from the ministry of foreign affairs, the ministry of internal affairs, the ministry of information and the ministry of justice. However, she received no answers from them. In her interview with the Deutsche Welle Souhayr Belhassen commented: ‘The fact that they do not want to meet means that they have something to hide. I wanted to speak with them about concrete cases of human rights violations. But it is not quite pleasant to listen to bitter truth, that’s why they tried to avoid the situation where they would have to look for excuses’.
16 October the international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its yearly rating of the freedom of press – Belarus is again on the 151st place out of 169. RSF points that three Soviet republics – Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – are among the 20 countries that close the list.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 2 October the court left in force the verdict of Tsentralny district court of Minsk to the political prisoner Andrei Klimau. The former deputy and businessman was found guilty under article 361, part 1 of the Criminal Code – ‘public calls to seizure of the state power or forced change of the political system of the Republic of Belarus, or distribution of the materials that contain such calls’ and article 368, part 2 – ‘Insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus, accompanied with accusations in commitment of a hard crime’. Klimau was sentenced to two years in high security prison.
On 16 October Shklou district court received a criminal case against the 26-year-old political prisoner, the leader of the Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich. The case was brought under article 402 of the Criminal Code – ‘refusal or evasion of witness or victim from testimony’. Under this article Dashkevich could be punished with up to three years of jail, which could prolong his stay behind bars. Bear in mind that Dashkevich was sentenced to 18 months of jail under article 193.1 of the Criminal Code – ‘activities on behalf of unregistered organization’. This autumn a criminal case under the same article was brought against several other Young Front activists including Ivan Shyla. The investigation demanded from Dashkevich to testify against Shyla. Dashkevich refused referring to article 27 of the Constitution that guarantees the right not to testify against oneself.
On 26 October a political prisoner Artur Finkevich was arrested. He was serving his term of corrective labor at an open penitentiary institution. 1,5 months were left till his release, when Finkevich received the fourth administrative reprimand and a criminal case under article 415, ‘Evasion from serving one’s term of corrective labor’. The maximal punishment under this article is three years of jail.
- Administrative punishment to participants of peaceful actions
On 9 October in Hrodna the police detained a human rights activist Viktar Sazonau and the activists of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin and Zmitser Slutski. The court found them guilty of ‘petty hooliganism’ and sentenced Sazonau and Slutski to seven days of jail and Istomin – to five.
On 9 October Zavadski district court of Minsk pronounced a verdict on an administrative case against a deputy chair of the youth wing of the Belarusian Popular Front Party Illia Bohdan. Bohdan and 15 other BPF activists were detained on 19 August for participation in a summer camp near the village of Kossava (Ivatsevichy district of Brest oblast). The police composed a number of violation reports for ‘dirty swearing’. The report against Bohdan was sent to court. The court found him guilty and sentenced to five days of jail. However, the judge Zhana Brysina released the defendant from the court hall, thus giving him time to appeal against the verdict. However, Minsk city court turned up the cassation complaint.
Late in the evening of 9 October the police burst into the apartment of the opposition activist Aliaksandr Atroshchankau on the second floor. They stated that they had received anonymous telephone information that there was a corpse there. Haven’t found the corpse, the police confiscated the computers and office supplies, information materials about the European March, national and European symbols and arrested Atroshchankau. On 11 October the court of Tsentralny district of Minsk sentenced the activist to 10 days of jail for ‘dirty swearing’.
On 10 October the youth activists Inha Abramava and Yury Bakur were detained and taken to Leninski district police department of Brest. There the police composed on them reports for ‘petty hooliganism’. On 11 October the court of Leninski district of Brest sentenced Bakur to 10 days of jail and Abramava – to five days. The charges were usual – ‘dirty swearing’.
On 11 October in Minsk the police preventively detained the democratic activists Mikita Sasim and Pavel Yukhnevich. They oppositionists were handcuffed and taken to Frunzenski district police department of Minsk. On 12 October the court found them guilty of dirty swearing in presence of the police who performed the detention. Sasim was sentenced to five days of jail and Yukhnevich – to seven days.
On 19 October Pavel Yukhnevich was released from jail and detained again because he allegedly swore at the entrance of the remand prison. On 19 October the judge of Savetski district court of Minsk Liudmila Savastsian considered two administrative cases against Yukhnevich, one of which was brought 2 months before. The judge found Yukhnevich guilty in both cases and sentenced him to 15 days of jail.
- Freedom of speech and the right to distribute information
On 4 October Siarhei Vazniak, the chief editor of the Tovarishch – the newspaper of the Party of Communists of Belarus – applied to Leninski district prosecutor’s office of Minsk and the General Prosecutor’s Office. He asked these organs to give a legal evaluation to the actions of the policemen who on 27 September had detained a part of the newspaper circulation. Vazniak also stated that during the arrest of 14 000 copies of the newspaper the police committed a number of process violations. For instance, policemen acted as witnesses of the arrest, which is a gross violation of the legal order. The fate of the confiscated part of the circulation remains unknown.
The republican Unitarian enterprise Belposhta holds the state monopoly on subscription to periodicals. It again refused to include a non-state newspaper Hantsavitski Chas into the subscription catalog because of ‘inexpediency’ of such cooperation. The editorial staff of the newspaper was informed about it by a letter dated 3 October and signed by the chair of Brest Belposhta office H.Tsitou. Bear in mind that in 2005 this year was one of the three largest newspapers distributed by subscription in Hantsavichy district. However, at the end of 2005 Belposhta did not conclude an agreement for distribution of the non-state newspaper for 2006, the year of the presidential election.
On 10 October Leninski disitrict court of Hrodna found an independent journalist Ivan Roman guilty under article 17.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism) and sentenced him to five days of jail. Journalists were not admitted to the trial. Roman thinks that since the last presidential election he is in the ‘black list’ of those whom the police must detain before mass actions (in this case – before the European March, 14 October 2007).
On 11 October Leninski district court of Hrodna sentenced the editor of Magazyn Polski na uchodzstwie, member of the Union of Poles in Belarus Ihar Bantsar to 10 days of jail under the same charges. The trial was closed. On hearing the sentence the journalist declared a hunger-strike of protest.
On 25 October the photo correspondent of Nasha Niva Yuliya Darashkevich was denied accreditation to the official meeting of the prime-minister of Belarus Siarhei Sidorski with the major of St.Petersburg V.Matvienko.
On 30 October in Vitsebsk the police detained the public activists Ales Pazniak and Ales Yemialyanau and took them to Chuhynachny district police department. There they confiscated from the detainees more than 400 copies of the non-state newspaper Narodnaya Volia (though it has an official state registration). In addition, the policemen demanded explanations from Pazniak and Yemialyanau.
- Right to association
On 11 October the Supreme Court satisfied to suit of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of the Belarusian Women’s Party Nadzeya. The leader of the party Nadzeya Yaskova stated that in its verdict the Supreme Court enumerated the violations the term of which had expired or which had been corrected by the party. She said that the liquidation was politically motivated.
On 11 October the Supreme Court turned up the complaint against the decision of the Ministry of Justice to deny registration to the Union of Left Parties (ULF). The secretary of the Party of Communists of Belarus Alena Skryhan pointed that the hearings on the ULF suit had been intentionally suspended till the end of the trial on Nadzeya liquidation, because after liquidation of a party that belonged to the union the court gained a good reason not to grant the suit against the justice ministry.
On 22 October the Ministry of Justice again refused to register the human rights and educational NGO ‘For Freedom’ Movement’. The reason was that the constituent assembly of the NGO had been held on the territory of a forest in a pioneer camp that was not functioning, as a result of which the law of the Republic of Belarus On mass actions was violated. ‘The law On mass actions does not regulate the constituent assemblies of public associations and we had no need to apply for authorization to any state organs. There is no such practice,’ commented on the registration denial the deputy chair of ‘For Freedom’ Movement’ Yury Hubarevich. The founders of the movement intend to appeal against this decision of the Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Court.
On 26 October the Supreme Court turned up the complaint of the founders of the public human rights association Viasna against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. ‘We are not going to apply to the Belarusian authorities again. In this case the decision was of evident political nature,’ stated the chair of Viasna Ales Bialiatski. According to him, now the initiators of the establishment of the human right NGO are preparing the second complaint to the UN Committee on Human Rights. Bear in mind, that on 7 August the UN Committee on Human Rights found the 2003 liquidation of the public association ‘Human Rights Center Viasna illegal and called the Belarusian government to take measures for restoring of the violated right to freedom of association within 3-month term.
- Right to peaceful assemblies
On 8 October representatives of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada and the organizational committee of the public association ‘Young Democrats – Young Hramada applied to Minsk city executive committee for authorization of pickets for release of Aliaksandr Kazulin. Minsk CEC satisfied one of the three applications – it was permitted to hold a picket on 24 October in Arlouskaya Street, near a circus ground. In the other two cases the applicants received refusals. It was not allowed to hold a picket in Druzhby Narodau Park near Banhalor Square because a picket dedicated to Chernobyl tragedy was to take place there and cleaning and repairs were performed at 50-hoddzia Kastrychnika Park.
On 30 October near Vitsebsk the police detained 27 public and political activists and journalists who gathered for a commemorative meeting in the place of mass fusillades of people during Stalin’s rule. The detainees were taken to Vitsebsk district police department. There the police composed on them reports for holding an unauthorized mass action.
The Belarusian authorities refused to authorize a meeting-requiem in Kurapaty wood near Minsk, the place of mass fusillades of victims of Stalin’s repressions. That’s why this action is held in the form of the commemoration days – the 29th of each month.
On 19 October the chair of the organizational committee of the forum To Future – Without Communism, deputy chair of the BPF Party Ales Mikhalevich and the chair of the republican association of the disabled at the war in Afghanistan Aliaksandr Kamarouski applied to Minsk city executive committee for holding a public prayer in the memory of victims of the war in Afghanistan. They intended to hold it on 3 November on the Island of Tears in Minsk, near a monument to victims of the war, but received a refusal from the officials.
- Politically motivated firings and expulsions from high schools
On 22 October Minsk city court turned down the complaint against the verdict of a district court of Minsk confirming the legality of Yury Aleinik’s expulsion from the Management Academy under the President of the Republic of Belarus. According to the rector’s order, the student was expelled for ‘systematic violations of the discipline and internal regulations’. The real reason is his public activity. Yury Aleinik is a member of the Belarusian Language Society and the Belarusian Association of Journalists. He also collected signatures against the repeal of social benefits to students.
On 9 October, on the eve of the European March the chair of Hrodna city organization of the United Civil Party Zmitser Slutskai was preventively detained together with some other democratic activists. The court found him guilty under article 17.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism) and sentenced the activist to five days of arrest. The administration of Hrodna-Khimvalakno (Hrodna-Man-made Fiber) where Slutski worked counted these days as missed without a good excuse and fired him for it.
A citizen of the village of Yelany (Svetlahorsk district of Homel oblast) Fiodar Shenets worked as a watchman of the drilling department of Belarusnafta (Belarusian Oil) enterprise. On 15 October he was fired from this position. Shenets says that it was done because he had applied for authorization of a picket. The picket was not authorized, and the applicant was fired.
- Freedom of conscience
Minsk community of the United church of Evangelic Christians in the Republic of Belarus God’s Church was refused in providing of a peace of land for construction of a temple. The chair of religious and national affairs department of Minsk state executive committee Ala Rabitsava explained it by saying that the church administration did not confirm having the necessary investments for building a church. She also said that the community can be punished with a warning or suspension of the activities for violation its charter, which manifested in hiding the place of the divine service. The pastor Henadz Kernazhytski stated that it is connected with the community’s support of Minsk church New Life of the Association of full evangel Christians in the Republic of Belarus.
- Restrictions of entrance to Belarus
On 14 October the deputy-chair of the European Parliament Janusz Onyszkewicz was denied entrance to Belarus without explanation of the reasons. The politician was going to Minsk to take part in the European March. Onyszkewicz pointed that by its activities Belarus violated the international agreements. ‘The Belarusian authorities must give a clear signal that they are ready to negotiate and accept the 12 proposals of the European Union. Belarus could receive much would it cooperate with the EU,’ stated the deputy chair of the EU, former defense minister of Poland and a founder of the Solidarnosc public movement Janusz Onyszkewicz.