Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2008
This time the beginning of the year was warmer than usual. The total crackdown of Belarusian authorities on the social and economic spheres of life increased the mood of protest, which resulted in aggravated repressions against the most active protesters. Despite the fact that January events were a planned continuation of the December entrepreneurs’ meeting, authorities were not ready for the decisive attempts of the entrepreneurs to protect their right to work. Presidential decree #760 of 29 December 2006, by which the entrepreneurs were deprived of the right to employ any workers except for three close relatives from January 2008, made many workers of small business redundant. It also affected ordinary citizens – the markets became empty, many stalls were closed, route taxis to markets started driving more rarely, etc. All efforts of the leaders of the entrepreneurs’ movement to establish a dialogue with authorities yielded no result – witnessing that high-rank officials decided to liquidate individual entrepreneurs as an unnecessary social class. Desperate entrepreneurs had nothing to do but go out in the streets.
The unauthorized act of entrepreneurs began in the afternoon of 10 January with a meeting in Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk. Several thousand people who voiced their demands to the authorities, the main being the abolishment of decree #760, took part in the rally. The delegation of entrepreneurs with Anatol Shumchanka at the head went to the presidential administration, but the meeting with a representative of the main economic department of the administration yielded no result. Then the procession of protesters moved to the House of the Parliament, demanding an audience with the prime-minister Siarhei Sidorski. The demonstrators stopped the traffic along Nezalezhnastsi Avenue and continued walking by the carriage way. At first the act went on without detentions: it seemed that the authorities did not dare use violence against the indignant entrepreneurs. On the other hand, on the eve the act regional leaders of the entrepreneurs’ movement Viktar Kryval and Alexander Tsatsura were detained, and the leader of the campaign For Free Development of Business Viktar Harbachou was blocked in his house in Barysau. In Rechytsa the entrepreneurs’ leader Aleh Shabetnik was arrested for five days and fined on charges in ‘disorderly conduct’; in Minsk the political activist Viachaslau Siwchyk was arrested for 10 days. After the end of the act, 27 of its most active participants were arrested, including Anatol Liabedzka and Anatol Shumchanka. Many of them were brutally beaten. The following day Maskouski and Tsentralny district courts of Minsk tried the detainees. 22 persons were sentenced to 15 days of arrest and the 19-year-old student Tatsiana Tsishkevich, who needed medical aid and showed the judge her bloodstained coat, got even more – 20 days of arrest.
Later the vice-chair of the main police department of Minsk Alexander Naidenka stated that a criminal case had been brought on the fact of mass riot in the capital. The Ministry of Justice sued to the Supreme Court for liquidation of the entrepreneurs’ association Perspective.
On 21 January the entrepreneurs held the second unauthorized act of protest. Considerable police forces were brought to the center of the city in advance: busses with riot police were parked in the yards and policemen in civvies were standing in Kastrychnitskaya Square since 10.30 a.m. The act participants gathered in Kastrychnitskaya Square at 12 o’clock and again moved to the House of the Parliament. However, when the number of demonstrators considerably increased, the police started disbanding them. Riot policemen with baffles and truncheons lined up near the Pedagogical University in Nezalezhnastsi Square. The Minister of Interior Uladzimir Navumau addressed the meeting participants. He warned them about criminal punishment and gave them 10 minutes to go away before the police would use force. Later a complete clearing of the square started. Some people were pushed away to the pedestrian underground crossing, others were driven out in the direction of the town hall. Some of the demonstrators were detained. On 22 January Tsentralny and Maskouski district courts of Minsk tried the detainees. The main difference was that this time people were fined instead of arrests. 15 persons were fined from 525 000 to 1 750 000 rubles ($244 – 488) and six were arrested for 5-15 days. One person was fined 1 225 000 rubles and arrested for 10 days. All of them were judged for ‘violation of the rules of holding mass actions’ (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code).
The international community condemned the repressions and urged the Belarusian authorities to take serious measures for democratization and ensure respect to Human Rights. All European institutions touch upon the topic of political prisoners in their reports. Trying to play at liberalization before the West again, the authorities started releasing political prisoners. Since 18 January parole was granted to Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and the youth leader Zmitser Dashkevich. Even this step was treated with restrained optimism, because, according to reports of various international structures, the overall situation in Belarus remained the same. Since November 2007 the vice-editor of the Zgoda newspaper Alexander Zdvizhkou was kept in the KGB prison for especially dangerous criminals. He was sentenced to three years of jail for reprinting Prophet Mohammad’s cartoons from a Danish newspaper. This verdict caused a wave of indignation among different international organizations and diplomatic missions that urged the Belarusian authorities to review the verdict and release the journalist.
1. Administrative punishment of participants of peaceful protest actions
On 18 January Tsentralny district court of Minsk found the youth activist, member of the United Civil Party Vital Stazharau guilty under two articles of the Administrative Court and sentenced him to 20 days of arrest. Vital Stazharau was detained near Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk. In his bag the police found leaflets with invitations to the protest action of entrepreneurs scheduled for 21 January. The UCP activist was tried for distribution of the leaflets and participation in the previous action of entrepreneurs that had taken place on 10 January.
On 29 January Salihorsk district court tried the detained collectors of signatures under two appeals to Minsk city executive committee on behalf of individual entrepreneurs and the citizens who were deprived of social benefits. The court found the vice-chairperson of the liquidated Belarusian Women’s Party Nadzeya Larysa Nasanovich and the activist of the entrepreneurs’ movement Alexander Tsatsura guilty under Article 23.34 (violation of the order of holding a mass action or picketing) and sentenced them to 15 days of arrest.
2. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 18 January Minsk city court found Alexander Zdvizhkou, former vice-editor of the independent newspaper Zgoda, guilty under Article 130, part 2 of the Criminal Code (fomentation of racial, national or religious enmity, committed by a duty official with the use of official powers) and sentenced him to three years in high security prison. The criminal case was brought by the prosecutor’s office in February 2006 for reprinting of Prophet Mohammad’s charges from the Danish newspaper Jullands-Posten. The Ministry of Justice simultaneously sued to the Supreme Economic Court for liquidation of the newspaper, and the court granted the lawsuit. The criminal case against Zdvizhkou was suspended because the investigation could not find him. In the beginning of January it became known that he had been detained in November 2007 and was kept in custody. At first the trial of Zdvizhkou was open, but then journalists were prohibited to attend the court sittings. Alexander Zdvizhkou appealed against the verdict at the Supreme Court. Bear in mind that the scandalous charges of Prophet Mohammad were reprinted by 143 editions in 56 countries, but only in Belarus a journalist was imprisoned for it.
A criminal case under Article 364 (violence or threat of violence to a policeman) was brought against a youth activist Andrei Kim, participant of the entrepreneurs’ meeting on 21 January. On 22 January the judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Tatsiana Pauliuchuk found Kim guilty under two articles of the Administrative Code, as a result of which he was sentenced to 10 days of arrest and fined 1 050 000 rubles ($488). Having served the arrest term, the activist was taken to Tsentralny district prosecutor’s office of Minsk for interrogation. The investigation chose custody as the restraint to him.
On 24 January Niasvizh court pronounced the verdict on the criminal case against Alexander Kruty. He was found guilty under Article 368 of the Criminal Code – public insult of the president. However, the court decided not to punish Kruty because his actions did not present a significant social danger and the criminal case was closed.
During the investigation Mr. Kruty underwent a forensic expertise that declared him a paranoid schizophrenic. That’s why instead of punishment the court ruled to send the defendant for forced medical treatment in psychiatric hospital. In this case the judge violated the law, because according to Article 448, part 2 of the Criminal Process code the court cannot apply forced treatment unless the convict’s actions are dangerous for the society. In January Alexander Kruty was still kept in the pre-trial prison in Zhodzina.
The criminal case for insult of president Lukashenka was brought against Kruty in May 2003 for distribution of self-produced leaflets where he wrote that the authorities were serving the evil. He lived in Minsk for several years, and was detained in autumn 2007. At first he was kept in the pre-trial prison in Zhodzina and then was forcedly kept at the republican psychiatric hospital.
On 23 January, two months prior to the expiry his prison term, the authorities released from Shklou prison #17 the leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich. It happened because on 22 January the Supreme court on its own initiative reviewed the criminal case and reduced the penalty from 1,5 years to 1 year. Thus, according to the new court verdict, Dashkevich spent behind bars four spare months.
3. Torture and other kinds of violent and inhuman treatment
On 14 January the patients of the republican tuberculosis hospital in the settlement of Navayelnia (Dziatlava district of the Hrodna region) declared a hunger-strike of protest against the unbearable conditions in the medical institution. The chief doctor of the hospital Mechyslau Douhan ignored the demands which were set up in their collective letter. The patients complained about the cold in the wards, absence of warm water and bad feeding. ‘Showers are turned on twice a week. The wards are very dirty and all wet. The food we are given cannot be consumed. Almost all of us have high temperature. We are ill with tuberculosis and need completely different conditions,’ explained one of the patients, Siarhei Voranau. According to him, the hospital is situated in the forest, but the ill aren’t even allowed to go out and buy the necessary goods for their own money.
On 14 January the judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Tatsiana Pauliuchukfound Siarhei Parsiukevich, the head of the Council of Entrepreneurs of Smalenski Market in Vitsebsk, guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code and sentenced him to 15 days of arrest for participation in the rally of entrepreneurs on 10 January. On the eve of the trial the police detained him right at his working place in Vitsebsk and drove to Minsk. On the eighth day of the arrest term Parsiukevich was violently beaten by one of the guards, who later accused him of assault. After his release Siarhei Parsiukevich registered the beating and applied to Maskouski district prosecutor’s office of Minsk. According to Parsiukevich’s information the prosecutor’s office conducted a check-up on this fact and he was been warned about the possibility of criminal punishment for assault on the policeman. The entrepreneur considers this case a provocation, because he retired from the police at the rank of major and knows well enough how to behave in custody.
4. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 6 January it became known that the administration of Niasvizh department of Minskablsayuzdruk refused to extend the agreement for distribution of the Niasvizhski Chas newspaper to 2008, issued by the private unitary enterprise IntexPress-Region. ‘Our cooperation was ceased without any statements after five years’, said the chief editor of the newspaper Aliaksei Bely.
In the morning of 10 January many independent internet resources elucidating the public and political events in Belarus were blocked. This time the method of ‘shaping’ was used again. The essence of this method is that a filter is set at the main computer of the state monopolist Beltelekom to artificially slow down the complete download of the specified sites by narrowing the transition channel. As a result the websites can be downloaded, but the process takes several minutes. At the same time Maryia Staliarova, a specialist of the group on information and communication at Beltelekom stated: ‘Our organization is an operator of electronic communications and serves the population. It is not an agency controlling the informational filling of websites.’
On 11 January Tsentralny district court of Minsk found the freelance correspondent of the Nasha Niva newspaper guilty of ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘participation in unsanctioned street act’ and sentenced him to 15 days of arrest. The journalist was detained in the center of Minsk on 10 January, during the entrepreneurs’ rally, to which he came on errand of the editorial board of Nasha Niva.
On 24 January the chair of the information department of the non-state newspaper Barysauskiya Naviny Anatol Mazgou was not admitted to the joint sitting of Barysau district executive committee and Barysau district deputy soviet. On 25 January he was also prohibited to attend the parents’ gathering in the Culture Palace of Barysau.
5. Right to association
On 30 January the Supreme Court considered the appeal of representatives of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (BCD) against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. According to the co-chairman of the party Aliaksei Shein, the judge completely upheld all pretensions of the Ministry of Justice to the BCD, including the alleged contradictions of its charter to the legislation and the absence of definitions for the notions of ‘adherents of Christian Weltanschauung’, ‘Christian values’ and ‘Christian approaches’. Aliaksei Shein called the judge’s verdict completely predictable and politically motivated. It is witnessed by the fact that earlier the Ministry of Justice registered the public organizations, whose aims, tasks and charter norms are absolutely identical to the documents passed by the BCD, which was proved at the trial.
6. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
On 22 January Zmitser Zhaleznichenka, an A-level third year student, was repeatedly expelled from the mathematical faculty of Homel State University. The same day the students’ labor committee held a sitting and voted for his expulsion. On 23 January Zhaleznichenka was summoned to the military enlistment office. Despite the fact that he was receiving medical treatment for hypertension, he was directed to Zhlobin for military service.
On 7 September the vice-chair of Talaka NGO and the regional party structure of the BPF Youth Zmitser Zhaleznichenka was expelled from the university for the first time for ‘systematic violations of the internal regulations of the university’. The university administration qualified as ‘systematic violations…’ that the student distributed tickets for a concert of Belarusian bards. The student did not put up with the unlawful expulsion. He sued the university and won. On 16 January Tsentralny district court of Homel reversed the rector’s order and obliged the university to rehabilitate the student. However, on 17 January Homel military enlistment office drafted him into the army.
The first-year student Anton Kalinouski was expelled from Minsk State Linguistic University after serving 10 days of arrest on false charges. The university administration issued two warnings to the student, thus depriving him of the opportunity to pass the missed exams. Anton Kalinouski was preventively detained together with Yury Stankevich and Franak Viachorka at the trial of a youth activist Yuliya Siutsova. All detainees were accused of dirty swearing.
7. Freedom of conscience
On 29 January the prosecutor’s office of Maskouski district of Minsk warned the pastor of the Protestant church New Life Viachaslau Hancharenka for refusing to let representatives of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in the temple. The prosecutor’s office also demanded that believers not hinder access of the ministry’s representatives to the church building. Actually, in such a way the authorities threaten the believers with administrative and criminal punishment. ‘At our general assembly we adopted the decision not to let anybody in till the authorities grant our claim: to reverse the ruling of Minsk city executive committee, according to which our piece of land was confiscated,’ said V. Hancharenka. ‘We decided not to let anybody in. It is our action of protest, an action of civil disobedience.’
On 30 January the court of Baranavichy and Baranavichy district fined the New Generation church of the Association of Communities of Full Evangelical Christians 700 000 rubles (about $325) for misuse of the rented land. According to the church’s lawyer Siarhei Lukanin, in 1997 the church purchased a warehouse with the view of using it as a temple. Baranavichy city executive committee refused to provide the church with the right to reconstruct the building. No statements were given.
Bear in mind that in December 2007 officers of the land management and land resources department of Baranavichy city executive committee composed an administrative report on misuse of the piece of land and passed it to court. The first court sitting took place on 10 January. Then the judge dropped the case because of lack of evidence confirming the pretensions of Baranavichy city executive committee to the religious community. S. Lukanin believes that the judge changed his position as a result of pressurization from the side of the local authorities.
8. Activities of security services
On 12 January in Homel KGB officers searched the apartment of the member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Siarhei Padsasonny. In the warrant it was stated that he was suspected in activities on behalf of the unregistered organization Young Front and involvement of pupils and students in it with the aim to discredit the country. Members of Homel branch of the BAJ proposed to watch the search as witnesses, but were shown the door. As a result of the search a memory card, a video-camera and a computer were confiscated. Homel journalists addressed Homel regional prosecutor with the request to stop the harassment of their colleague. He answered that the actions of the KGB officers were lawful.
On 23 January the youth activist Maryia Rudakouskaya, student of one of Minsk colleges, was invited to the headmaster’s office, where a KGB officer was waiting for her. He introduced himself as Captain Bialotski and asked about her educational trip to Brussels. Maryia refused to speak with him without receiving an official writ. Then the KGB officer tried to blackmail her. He reminded her about her participation in the summer camp of democratic youth near Ivatsevichy, for which she had been already tried, and said that he had seen her at the entrepreneurs’ rally. ‘He threatened that he would inform the Ministry of Education and the college administration about my activities, which would put my further studies in danger’, said Maryia Rudakouskaya.
9. Other kinds of harassment