Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in November 2007
On 4 November the Belarusian opposition held the Social March¸ a mass action of protest against the decreasing life standards. At first the organizers intended to gather the people at Kastrychnitskaya Square and lead them to the National library where a meeting was to have taken place. However, as it usually happens, Minsk city executive committee again changed the place of gathering and the route. The place of the meeting was transferred to Banhalor Square.
Two days prior to the action, on 2 November, the police detained an organizer of the Social March Mikhail Pashkevich while he was handing out informational materials. The court found him guilty in violation of the order of organization and holding mass actions and sentenced the activist to three days of jail. As usual, during the day of the action the police detained the vehicles by which democratic activists were going to Minsk. For instance, at the drive-out of Vitsebsk the police detained a minibus with a group of social-democrats. The reason for the detention was allegedly the suspicion that the minibus was stolen. Vitsebsk activists of the Party of Communists of Belarus were taken to Vitsebsk oblast road police department. The police also detained the chairman of Hrodna office of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin and nine other members of the party.
On 28 November the law On amnesty for certain categories of persons who have committed crimes. This legal act was approved by the Soviet of the Republic of 16 November and signed by the president on 22 November. According to this law parole will be granted only to two categories of citizens – convicts (before this it was spread also on those who were under investigation) and those who have completely compensated the harm ensuing from their crimes, as specified by the enforced court verdicts. The political prisoners did not fall under the amnesty. On the contrary, new criminal cases were brought against the imprisoned leaders of the underground organization Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich and Artur Finkevich.
Belarus still suffers from overcrowded prisons. According to the vice-prosecutor general Aliaksandr Ivanouski, the proportion between the number of prisoners and the workers of penitentiary institutions exceeds the scientifically grounded norms of the foreign practice more than three times. Besides, during the nine months of 2007 the prosecutor’s office considered more than 1 700 applications of citizens concerning the abidance by the law during serving the terms. 200 of them were satisfied.
On 28 November the College Board of the General Prosecutor’s office analyzed the situation with the law abidance in the process of bringing the citizens of Belarus to criminal responsibility. According to the press center of the prosecutor’s office, during the nine months of 2007 148 citizens underwent illegal criminal persecution. The officially called reasons for it are the non-abidance by the law during bringing of criminal cases and detention of the persons who were suspected in crimes, which became possible due to a low level of the education of the investigative organs and an improper organization of the departmental control on all stages of the criminal process. This year prosecutors have annulled 2 495 illegal rulings on bringing criminal cases.
On 21 November the third UN Committee adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus. The resolution expressed ‘serious concern’ with the ‘continuing systematic violations of human rights in Belarus and further erosion of the democratic process’. The document calls the Belarusian government to ‘immediately and unconditionally free all who were detained for politically motivated reasons’, and stop ‘pressurizing and intimidating’ the political opponents, public activists, human rights defenders and independent mass media. The resolution also calls to put the electoral process and the legislative basis of Belarus in line with the international standards.
On 15 November the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling the nations to introduce a moratorium on capital punishment. This document was put to voting on behalf of 80 states and the proposal for introduction of the moratorium was supported by 99 states. Belarus is the only European country where death penalty still exists, for which it receives well-deserved criticism from the EU countries. During the voting Belarus was an abstainer, while even Russia voted for the moratorium. The resolution of the General Assembly is declarative, but serves as a political signal to the governments.
1. Capital punishment
In November a former policeman Aliaksandr Siarheichyk who had been found guilty in a number of especially hard felonies was executed by shooting. He was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on 22 May 2007. The date of the execution and the place of his burial are kept in secret.
2. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 9 November the judge of Shklou district court Tatsiana Kashkina found the youth leader Zmitser Dashkevich guilty under article 402 of the Criminal Code, ‘refusal or evasion of witness or victim from testimony’, and fined him 1 860 000 rubles (about 865 USD). Bear in mind that under this article Dashkevich could have received up to three years of jail, that’s why bringing a case on this article can be considered as intimidation. At the same time, the fact that the activist was only fined may result from the international pressure on the Belarusian authorities. The trial took place at corrective colony #17 in Shklou, where Dashkevich serves the 18 months of jail to which he had been sentenced under article 193.1 of the Criminal Code for activities on behalf of the unregistered youth organization Young Front. The relatives, journalists, diplomats and politicians who wanted to attend the trial, were not admitted to it. The human rights organization Amnesty International declared Dashkevich a prisoner of conscience and holds a campaign on his liberation. In Belarus there has been established a committee in support of the youth leader.
On 16 November the youth leader Artur Finkevich received the official charges under article 415 of the Criminal Code, ‘evasion from serving corrective labor’. The maximal punishment under this article is three years of jail. In May 2006 Finkevich was sentenced to two years of corrective labor for political graffiti. 1,5 months before his release the administration of the open prison where he serves his term issued the fourth disciplinary reprimand to him for violation of the internal regulations. Then the criminal case was brought. On 28 November the new criminal case was passed to Kastrychnitski district court of Mahiliou and the youth activist was closed in an investigative isolator.
In Polatsk a criminal case under article 370, ‘Outrage of the state symbols’, was brought against a 19-year-old activist Katsiaryna Salauyova, second-year student of the faculty of history and philology of Polatsk State University. On 27 November KGB workers detained the girl near Polatsk city executive committee. At first she was accused under article 10.9 of the Administrative Code, ‘deliberate defilement of property’, for making graffiti. Then Salauyova’s room was searched. All information carriers and materials connected to the Young Front were confiscated. The activist was detained and taken to the prosecutor’s office for an interrogation.
At present Katsiaryna Salauyova is suspected in relation to the removal and tearing the state flag from the roof of the prosecutor’s office of Polatsk, and writing on the building ‘Young Front. We Cannot Be Stopped!’. Besides, the investigation conducts a check-up with the aim of bringing a criminal case under article 193.1 against her, for activities on behalf of the Young Front.
3. Administrative punishments to participants of peaceful actions
On 2 November the judge of Partyzanski district court of Minsk Natallia Chatviartkova found a member of the United Civil Party Mikalai Siarheyenka under article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, ‘violation of the order of organization or holding mass action or picketing’, and sentenced him to 15 days of jail. Mr. Siarheyenka was detained by the police for handing out Svabodu Belarusi (Freedom to Belarus) bulletin with information about the repeal of social benefits and holding of the Social March on 4 November in Minsk.
On 28 November the administrative commission of Salihorsk town executive committee considered 11 administrative reports against the youth activists Krystsina Samoylava, Ivan Shyla and the parents of Illia Shyla and Andrei Tychyna. The reports were composed for their participation in the unauthorized actions of 16 October and 7 November. The pupil Krystsina Samoylava was found guilty under article 23.34, ‘violation of the order of organization or holding mass actions or pickets’, and article 23.4, ‘insubordination to a legal order or demand of an official on duty’ and fined 2 480 000 rubles (about 1 153 USD). Such enormous fines were also given to the Shyla brothers. The court considered three reports against Ivan Shyla, two of which were composed under article 23.34, and one – under article 23.4. The activist was found guilty in all three cases and sentenced to pay 1 860 000 rubles (about 865 USD). As Ivan has not reached the age of 16 yet, his parents were fined 620 000 rubles (about 288 USD) under article 9.4, part 1, ‘non-implementation of duties on upbringing of children’. Thus, the total amount of fines for the family is also 2 480 000 rubles. The youth activist Andrei Tychyna was warned. The fined activists will appeal against these draconian verdicts.
On 29 November Zavadski district court of Minsk tried the activists of the movement For Free Business Ruslan Lutsenka and Aliaksandr Talstyka. The entrepreneurs were detained in the evening of 28 November for handing out leaflets with the calls to come to Kastrychnitskaya Square of Minsk on 10 December and take part in a meeting of protest of individual entrepreneurs. The trial was closed, only a lawyer was admitted to it. The judge Alena Niakrasava sentenced the father of two small children Aliaksandr Talstyka to seven days of jail. Ruslan Lutsenka was sentenced to 10 days of jail despite of the fact that he had recovered from pneumonia short before this and still had bronchitis.
The authorities of Polatsk banned a festival Rock-Kola (Rock Circle) that had been held for 17 years before it. The soviet on coordination of the activity of law machinery of Polatsk city executive committee ruled to stop the activity of the festival in Polatsk. The protocol of its sitting runs: ‘To note the unsatisfactory preparation of the festival of the Belarusian music ‘Rock-Kola’ of 26-27 October 2007… To consider inexpedient hooding of measures like ‘Rock-Kola’, which are alien to the historical heritage of the city of Polatsk and the Orthodox religion. To recommend the officials who are responsible for spiritual upbringing of youth to abstain from initiating such measures.’ The festival director Siarhei Anishchanka gave the following commentary to the himik.info newspaper: ‘Rock-Kola was the only festival that was controlled by the authorities. Possibly, now rock-n-roll will again descend to the underground, from which everything started… Rock-Kola can also become another foreign Belarusian festival,’, said Anishchanka.
On 14 November the authorities disrupted the presentation of the Stasi album by a famous Belarusian rock band Neuro Dubel. The event was to have taken place at the Fortuna restaurant. Several hours before the presentation the director of the restaurant was visited by KGB workers. Then he was called to Partyzanski district executive committee of Minsk, where he was advised to refuse from holding the presentation. As a result the shield ‘does not work for technical reasons’ appeared on the front door of the restaurant on 14 November.
5. Freedom of speech and the right to distribute information
On 12 November the workers of Savetski district police department of Homel detained the democratic activists Vasil Paliakou and Ihar Sluchak. They took the activists to a police station, searched them and confiscated 1 500 copies of the address to the deputies. In this address the deputies were proposed to report to the electorate about their activities. They were also reminded that it was them who had adopted the law on repeal of social benefits and guarantees.
A member of the Soviet of the Republic Mikalai Charhinets sued to Pershamaiski district court of Minsk against a non-state newspaper Novy Chas and a journalist Aliaksandr Tamkovich. He demanded from the editorial office 500 million rubles and 100 million rubles from the journalist for compensation of harm to his honor and dignity. ‘Charhinets’ pretensions are grounded on Tamkovich’s essay General-senator Charhinets, published in #25, 24 September 2007. When the newspaper was issued, we got a telephone call from his lawyer, who expressed her pretensions to the newspaper. She said: ‘See you in the court’,’ said the chief editor of the newspaper Aliaksei Karol. ‘Charhinets considered as an insult some phrases from the articles which, to our mind, don’t contain anything insulting. For instance he was offended by the remark that he had become the head of the right union of writers (the pro-governmental Union of Writers of Belarus). First of all, I don’t know what is insulting here. Secondly, the chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers Ales Pashkevich is ready to confirm that it is his union which is ‘not right’,’ said the editor. According to his information, the plaintiff also seeks the arrest of the accounts of the private Unitarian enterprise Chas Navin which published the Novy Chas newspaper. ‘That’s why I think that the whole trial is initiated with the aim to stop the issue of the newspaper,’ commented Karol. The preliminary sitting on this case was appointed on 5 December.
The Russian newspapers of democratic orientation Kommersant, Moskovskiy Komsomolets and Nezavisimaya Gazeta were excluded from the subscription catalog of the state monopolist Belposhta (Belarusian post) for the first six months of 2008. The official reason is ‘economical inexpedience’. Bear in mind that these very editions pay quite much attentions to the situation in Belarus and publish the articles which dissatisfy the Belarusian authorities. That’s why the problem hardly lies in the economical expediency, it’s rather in Belposhta and Belsayuzdruk being the state monopolists in the sphere of press and the sale and subscription of newspapers on Belarus depends on the moods and the views of their officials.
6. Right to association
On 14 November the Supreme Court turned down the cassation complaint of the Union of Left Forces against the ruling of the Ministry of Justice not to register this alliance. The Supreme Court admitted that there was no evidence that some of the ULF documents had been forged, as it had been stated by the ministry. That’s why the main reason became the liquidation of the women’s party Nadzeya by the Ministry of Justice, which took place short before the consideration of the cassation complaint. Noteworthy, the Union of Left Forces was established by the Party of Communists of Belarus, the women’s party Nadzeya, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party and the Belarusian Labor Party. There were two attempts to get the official registration for the alliance. The ULF founders considered the verdict of the Supreme Court illegal and intend to file a review complaint against it.
On 20 November the founders of the human rights public association ‘Movement ‘For Freedom’ appealed to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the NGO. The official reason for non-registering For Freedom is that the constituent assembly was held on the territory of a non-functioning summer camp with violating the law On mass actions in the Republic of Belarus. Thus, stated the Ministry, the order of the establishment of public associations was violated. The deputy chair of the ‘Movement ‘For Freedom’ Yury Hubarevich stated that the establishment of public organizations is regulated by the law On public associations, not by the law On mass actions¸ that’s why the ruling of the Ministry of Justice was groundless. ‘The ministry twice refused to register the public association ‘Movement ‘For Freedom’. It is enough to file a complaint with the UN Committee on Human Rights. We will do it after the Supreme Court considers our appeal against the non-registration,’ said Yu.Hubarevich.
7. Politically motivated firings and expulsions from high schools
On 5 November the judge of Tsentralny district court of Homel Alena Tsalkova upheld the expulsion of Zmitser Zhaleznichenka from Homel State University. He was expelled from the university at the beginning of September despite of an excellent progress and absence of missed classes. The official reason for the expulsion became ‘systematic violation of the internal regulations’, which manifested in Zhaleznichenka’s being fined for organization of a concert of the Belarusian bards. Zmitser Zhaleznichenka intends to appeal against the expulsion from the university to higher court instances, the prosecutor’s office and the State Control Committee.
8. Right to travel
On 23 November the workers of Homel department of citizenship and migration unexpectedly annulled the visas to three Polish participants of a seminar for pupils and students, held on 21-25 November in Homel within the limits of the German-Polish-Belarusian project Dialogues with Neighbors. The Polish side was represented by the Drumla NGO. Though the visas of the Polish guests expired on 25 November, the local authorities demanded from them to leave Belarus within 24 hours, telling that the real purpose of their visit did not correspond to the one that was specified in the visas.
9. Activity of secret services
Homel oblast KGB office refused to return the computer that belonged to the republican public association Legal Initiative. The computer was exacted during a search at the UCP office. Instead the chair of Homel city UCP organization Leanid Sudalenka received an answer from the KGB. There it was stated that the computer was admitted evidence in the criminal case concerning the unregistered organization Young Front. On 2 November Sudalenka was summonsed to Homel oblast KGB office and interrogated on this case.