Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in December 2007
In December a wave of social protests rolled over Belarus. A part of the protest actions were connected with the enforcement of the law on social benefits, rights and guarantees for certain categories of citizens, by which the main benefits to the population were liquidated. Another part was connected with protests against the enforcement of presidential decree #760, prohibiting individual entrepreneurs to hire employees with the exception of close relatives. On 9 November six activists of the entrepreneur movement – Viktar Kalei, Viktar Kryval, Aliaksandr Makayeu, Aleh Shabetnik, Aliaksandr Taustyka and Aliaksandr Tsatsura – applied to Minsk city executive committee for permission to hold a meeting of entrepreneurs with participation of regional activists at 12 a.m. on 10 December. On 5 December the authorities informed the entrepreneurs that this action was banned and proposed to them the usual place – Banhalor Square, which is quite far from the center. However, entrepreneurs did not agree to this variant and stated that they would gather in Kastrychnitskaya Square anyway. During the three days before the meeting the applicants were warned that they were to come to the prosecutor’s office at 10 a.m. on 10 December. At the prosecutor’s office they were proposed to sing undertakings not to take part in the measure, but refused to do it. Then workers of the prosecutor’s office warned them about possible punishment for organization of the unauthorized action and let them go. According to the head of the campaign For Free Development of Business Viktar Harbachou, on the eve of the action representatives of tax inspection, KGB and police paid visit to markets and asked entrepreneurs not to participate in the action.
Despite this, according to the leaders of the entrepreneurs’ movement, about 30 000 persons took part in the action of protest all over the country. The action participants adopted a resolution in which it was stated that ‘the policy of the authorities is antisocial, because the decree dooms to poverty those who cannot do without hiring workers – single mothers, pregnant women, disabled persons and big families.’ ‘We state our intention to struggle for our right to exist till the end and call all individual entrepreneurs to go on another vacation with non-payment of taxes since 1 January 2008’, runs the resolution. The document also calls the authorities to implement the 12 EU conditions. A copy of the resolution was passed to the House of the Parliament. The chair of the parliamentary commission on industry, fuel-energy complex, transport, communications and business Anatol Paulovich came out to the entrepreneurs. He proposed them to hold a meeting and discuss the situation. He also stated that they would not be detained and would be able to take part in the meeting. The entrepreneurs, in their turn, expressed their readiness to protest in any forms: meetings, strikes, pickets, etc. The first street action was appointed on 10 January, and since 1 January they declared a nationwide strike with non-payment of taxes.
On 10 December the police detained the entrepreneurs Viktar Harbachou, Viktar Kalei, Viktar Kryval, Aliaksandr Makayeu and Aliaksandr Tsatsura and public activists Barys Haretski, Viktar Ivashkevich, Aliaksei Kashkarou, Krystsina Shatsikava, the daughter of Aliaksandr Kazulin Volha Kazulina and the head of Kazulin’s press-service Raisa Mikhaylouskaya. The last two were released several hours after detention. Reports of administrative violation were drawn on the rest, who spent the night in jail in Akrestsin Street. The following day nine detainees were tried. Eight of them were imprisoned and one – fined.
Before the New Year Aliaksandr Lukashenka tried to minimize the percent of strikers by his decree #685 On additional conditions of business activity. By this decree he prolonged the deadline for re-registration of individual entrepreneurs to private Unitarian enterprises to 1 March 2008. Nevertheless, the press-release of the presidential press-service reads: ‘The position of the state towards the employment of workers by individual entrepreneurs remains unchanged’.
On 16 December about one thousand persons in 30 cities and towns of Belarus took part in street actions, though in the majority of cases the local authorities refused to authorize pickets against repeal of social benefits. According to the deputy-chair of the Party of Communists Belarusian Valery Ukhnaliou, during the actions people were informed about the consequences of liquidation of social benefits, received newspapers and agitation materials. ‘The people were indignant that the authorities create obstacles to free discussion of the consequences of benefit cuts’, stated the politician. He also said that the united democratic forces are still trying to make deputies report about their activities to their electors. The necessary number of signatures has been already collected for 30 deputies to report. The campaign on revocation of deputies from the Chamber of Representatives will be continued as well.
On 12-13 December Belarusian citizens held pickets For Independent Belarus! against the negotiations on the union state between Belarus and Russia. On 12 December riot police violently dispersed a meeting in Kastrychnitskaya Square. In two cases an ambulance was called. The Embassy of Slovakia in Belarus condemned the police violence and called the Belarusian authorities to ‘stop using force against citizens and let Belarusians exercise their fundamental rights’. The US Department of State also expressed protest concerning these facts.
At 6 p.m. on 10 December the satellite channel TV Belarus (BelSat trademark) started broadcasting. At the official web-site www.belsat.home.pl it is pointed that the mission of the TV channel is to ‘provide precise and independent information about the events in Belarus, Europe and the whole world’. The programs for TV Belarus are created by journalists from Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Czech. The channel broadcasts in the Belarusian language.
- Administrative punishment to participants of peaceful protest actions
On 11 December Minsk courts tried the leaders of the entrepreneurs’ movement. Tsentralny district court sentenced Viktar Harbachou and Viktar Kryval to 15 days of jail under article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of organizing or holding mass actions), Viktar Kalei – to 10 days (under part 2 of article 23.34) and Aliaksandr Tsatsura – to 10 days (under article 17.1 – ‘petty hooliganism’). Aliaksandr Makayeu was sentenced to 7 days of jail by Maskouski district court of Minsk under article 17.1. During the whole 15 days of arrest Kryval kept a hunger-strike of protest.
Tsentralny district court sentenced the deputy chair of the BPF Party Viktar Ivashkevich to 15 days of jail under article 17.1 as well. On the eve of arrest Ivashkevich called Belarusian citizens to come to Kastrychnitskaya Square on 12 December, on the eve of Putin’s visit to Belarus.
On 13 December Tsentralny district court of Minsk sentenced the poets Siarzhuk Minskevich and Ales Turovich to three days of jail and fined the poet Zmitser Vishniou about 80 US dollars for ‘dirty swearing’ (again article 17.1). The police detained them on 12 December in Kastrychitskaya Square, where the unauthorized action For Independent Belarus! was taking place. ‘We were just sitting on a bench and speaking in Belarusian, which the police did not like’, said the poets at the trial.
On 13 December in Brest the police also detained participants of the protest action which took place near the general consulate of Russia, Anastasiya Iliina and Andrei Sharenda. They were sentenced to 5 and 7 days of jail respectively, under part 1 of article 23.34 by the judge of Leninski district court of Brest Larysa Nazarenka.
On 17 December the judge of Leninski district court of Minsk Yuliya Shumskaya sentenced to 10 days of jail the activist of the United Civil Party Mikalay Siarheyenka under article 17.1 of the Administrative Code. On 6 December he was detained together with other democratic activists during an unauthorized search at the office of the Congress of democratic trade unions, during which the police confiscated a risograph and leaflets with invitations to the entrepreneur’s action of protest on 10 December. The police drew a report on Siarheyenka, accusing him of dirty swearing and threats to them.
- Politically motivated criminal cases
On 1-4 December in Mazyr jail the political prisoner Andrei Klimau had the first long-term meeting with his wife Tatsiana Klimava and son Stas. Andrei’s mother could not come to see Andrei because the prison is situated far away from Minsk, and she is disabled and cannot make such long trips.
The department of punishment execution considered the application of the chair of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka concerning the conditions of Klimau’s incarceration. ‘There is no danger to his personal security in conditions of corrective colony #20 in Mazyr’, reads the answer.
On 13 December representatives of Human Rights Center Viasna passed to the duty policeman of the Ministry of Internal Affairs a petition of Belarusian and foreign human rights activists and a parcel of paper cranes from London office of Amnesty International. It was an action in support of the political prisoner Zmitser Dashkevich who is serving his prison term for being a leader of the unregistered youth organization Young Front. According to the vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski, Amnesty International declared a worldwide campaign of solidarity with Dashkevich. ‘We have received a parcel from the London office of Amnesty International, containing one large crane with thousands of small paper cranes inside. We asked the duty policeman to pass this parcel to the minister of internal affairs Uladzimir Navumau together with the demand of Amnesty International and Belarusian human rights activists to release political prisoners’, said Mr. Bialiatski.
On 16 December, the Day of Solidarity with political prisoners, a group of democratic activists compensated the fines which the political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin had been sentenced to pay within the frames of the criminal case against him. The money was transferred to the account of the main police department of Minsk city executive committee. ‘Judge of Maskouski district court of Minsk A.Rybakou ruled to exact from Kazulin 190 000 as compensation to the main police department of Minsk CEC, 20 000 rubles to the riot policeman A.Yakimovich ad 21 000 rubles of the court fee’, explained the chair of Kazulin’s juridical service Aleh Volchak. ‘Without covering these debts Kazulin would have no right to early release, but he was not going to pay any money, because he considers himself innocent. Earlier Kazulin’s wife paid off the compensation sum to the riot policeman Yakimovich.’ So, now Aliaksandr Kazulin has a chance to be released on parole.
In December 2007 the criminal cases under article 191.3 for participation in the unregistered youth organization Young Front were reopened against the Young Front activists Kiryl Atamanchyk from Zhlobin, Andrei Tsianiuta in Homel and Arseni Yahorchanka in Svetlahorsk.
On 20 December Kastrychnitski district court of Mahiliou sentenced the political prisoner Artur Finkevich to 1,5 years of jail under article 415 of the Criminal Code (evasion from serving one’s term of corrective labor). Thus, Finkevich was transferred from an open corrective facility to prison. The reason for such hard sentence was that he allegedly often violated the regime. In his last word the defendant asked the judge to give him the mildest punishment provided by the article – 6 months of jail, referring to difficult family circumstances and exacerbation of the diseases during the serving of the corrective labor term. Artur’s lawyer Hanna Rybalka stated she would appeal against the verdict.
- Tortures and other kinds of inhuman treatment
On 12 December in Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk the police violently dispersed a peaceful action of protest against an official visit of the Russian president Vladimir Putin. The riot police purposefully beat a Young Front activist Zmitser Khvedaruk. The riot police did not let people to approach the fellow, who was unconscious. The ambulance was called by the action participants, who saw the beating. Khvedaruk was taken to Minsk hospital #9, the doctors of which diagnosed a cranial trauma and numerous bruises. Zmitser complained to the prosecutor’s office against the unlawful actions of the police, but received just a formal come-off.
- Right to association
On 6 December the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. According to the responsible secretary of the organizing committee of the party Dzianis Sadouski, the Ministry of Justice explained that it just could not understand what the party members meant by ‘Christian principles’ and ‘Christian values’. ‘It is quite sad that the Ministry of Justice does not understand such clear things. We intend to appeal against this ruling to court,’ stated Sadouski.
On 18 December the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the complaint of the public human rights association For Freedom against the actions of the Ministry of Justice, which refused to register the NGO. It was the first case when the ministry returned the documents without consideration and after the expiry of the legal term for such consideration. Nevertheless, the judge of the Supreme Court Hanna Sakalouskaya found such decision of the Ministry of Justice lawful and stated that the constituent assembly of the NGO had taken place with violations of the established order of mass action – the assembly participants had not asked official authorization. ‘The verdict of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with the legislation and is dictated by political reasons. I think that the judge, the representative of the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor understood it and were ashamed. That’s why we consider it our moral victory,’ commented the leader of For Freedom Movement Aliaksandr Milinkevich. He also stated that the attempts to register the NGO will continue.
- Right to peaceful assemblies
Homel city executive committee turned down 30 applications of public and political activists for authorization of pickets against the repeal of social benefits. Activists of democratic forces intended to hold these pickets on 10 and 16 December, but were not allowed to do it. After the presidential campaign 2006 Homel hasn’t seen any mass action except for those organized by the authorities. During this time democratic activists directed to Homel city execute committee about 150 applications for meetings and pickets. ‘The authorities react with panics to any manifestations of protest in the society, especially if the protest concerns such inconvenient topic as repeal of social benefits. The authorities have suppressed and will continue suppressing any public initiatives,’ commented one of the applicants, chair of Homel regional UCP organization Vasil Paliakou in an interview with the BelaPAN.
On 20 December the activist of the Party of Communists Belarusian Uladzimir Kiryianau appealed to Brest oblast prosecutor’s office against the refusals of Brest city executive committee to authorize pickets against the liquidation of social guarantees. According to Kiryianau, who personally applied for authorization of two actions, the answers to his applications are mutually exclusive. In particular, the first application was rejected because the place of the picket was other than the officially determined one (the Lokomotive stadium). At the same time, the authorities did not authorize a picket at the stadium, because it had been allegedly given to Victory-86 football club for football tournaments.
It is worth mentioning that during the last three months Brest CEC refused to authorize more than 100 actions, without presenting good motivation for the refusals.
- Freedom of speech
On 12 December the non-staff correspondent of the Nasha Niva newspaper and Radio Racyja Barys Haretski was sentenced to 7 days of jail for alleged participation in an unauthorized mass action. He was detained on 11 December near Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk, where he watched the protest action of the Belarusian entrepreneurs on the request of the editorial office. He had the journalist certificates from both mass media with him.
On 14 December it became known that the Ministry of Information issued an official warning to the editorial staff of the non-state regional newspaper Babruiski Kuryier. The edition was accused of distributing false information for calling the official state event timed to an anniversary of the October revolution a ‘meeting’. In November the chief editor of the newspaper Anatol Sanatsenka was summonsed by the chair of the ideological department of Babruisk town executive committee Aliaksandr Markachou. The official promised that sanctions would be applied to the newspaper and said that he would complain to the Ministry of Information.
On 20 December Pershamaiski district court of Minsk partially satisfied the suit of the head of the commission of the Soviet of the Republic on international affairs and national security Mikalai Charhinets to the journalist Aliaksandr Tamkovich and the private publishing enterprise Chas Navin, founder of the Novy Chas newspaper. By her verdict the judge Alena Ananich obliged the newspaper to disprove the information from Tamkovich’s article General-senator Mikalai Charhinets, published in the 25th issue of Novy Chas on 24 September 2007.
In his suit Charhinets stated that this article insulted his honor and dignity. According to the court verdict, the enterprise must pay to him 50 million rubles as compensation, and journalist Tamkovich, who is disabled – 1 million rubles. It’s worth mentioning that at first Charhinets demanded from the defendants 500 and 100 million rubles respectively, but then decreased these sums to 50 and 5 millions.
In his interview with BelaPAN the editor of Novy Chas Aliaksei Karol stated that the court verdict would be appealed in Minsk city court. ‘We shouldn’t forget that it is far from the first case when state officials file multimillion suits against non-state mass media. The political motivation of such cases is evident. The real aim is to make the media bankrupts and get them closed. Such court verdicts witness that the words of the Belarusian authorities do not correspond to their deeds. They state about the intention to establish a dialogue with the West and at the same time violate freedom of speech,’ emphasized A.Karol. According to Tamkovich, he is going to sue Charhinets, who called him mad in #274 of the internet edition Ezhednevnik. ‘The scope of the compensation for moral harm for insult of my honor and dignity will be equal to his honor and dignity,’ emphasized the journalist. He also said that he had applied to the police concerning the anonymous telephone threats by a man, who introduced himself as a ‘veteran of Afghan war’ (Charhinets is one of Afghan veterans, by the way).
- Activities of secret services
On 14 December workers of Homel oblast KGB office searched Homel office of the United Civil Party. They explained their actions by saying that some leaflets with the calls to support the unauthorized meeting against the liquidation of social guarantees were posted in the city. According to the chair of Homel city UCP organization, the search lasted for 1,5 hours. The KGB agents confiscated 28 copies of addresses to the deputies of the Chamber of Representatives, in which their electors asked the officials to organize meetings and report about results of their activity in the Parliament, 11 copies of the Svaboda bulletin and seven CDs with Yury Khashchavatski’s films.