Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in February 2008
In February Belarusian Human Rights defenders paid most attention to political prisoners and politically motivated criminal cases. The main event this month was the abolishment of the politically motivated verdicts to the youth activist Artur Finkevich and the journalist Alexander Zdvizhkou, as a result of which both were released from jail. The authorities also granted parole to the entrepreneurs Mikalai Autukhovich and Yury Liavonau and the oppositional politician Andrei Klimau. However, despite the demands of the EU and the US the former candidate to president of Belarus Alexander Kazulin remained behind bars. He was proposed release from jail in exchange for emigration to Germany and cessation of political activities. In addition, the authorities demonstrated an exceptional violence in relation to Kazulin’s family. His wife Iryna died of cancer and the authorities didn’t let him go to the funeral for two days. It cannot but be considered as a violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by Belarus.
The Assistant Secretary of State on Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, David Kramer, did not manage to come to the funeral of Iryna Kazulina, because he gоt a Visa only on 3 March. The US Embassy emphasized that Mr. Kramer would visit Belarus only in the case of unconditional release of Alexander Kazulin. The EU commissioner for external relations and European neighborhood policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner also urged the Belarusian authorities to release Mr. Kazulin.
Despite the relative release of pressure, politically motivated criminal persecution still existed in Belarus. For instance, the youth activist Andrei Kim was still kept behind bars. He was suspected in having beaten a policeman during the protest act of entrepreneurs on 21 January 2008. Besides, the criminal case under Article 342, part 1 of the Criminal Code, ‘organization or active participation in the actions that grossly violate the public order’ was brought against him for participation in another entrepreneurs’ action on 10 January 2008. There were 13 more suspects in this case. In February three participants of the democratic act European March received the rulings, according to which they were suspected in malignant hooliganism and damaging the police cars. Besides, the state enterprise Horremautador put a 2 000 000 rubles’ suit against the action organizers – that’s the sum the enterprise wanted to get for cleaning the streets after the act.
In February the entrepreneurs continued holding protest acts. The protesters were punished with fines and imprisonment.
On 21 February the European Parliament unanimously voted the resolution on Belarus calling on the Belarusian authorities to release political prisoners, guarantee freedom of expression and hold free elections. The EU deputies welcomed the parole to the democratic activists and the permission to open a mission of the European Commission in Minsk. Nevertheless, the resolution also expressed a deep regret concerning the absence of progress in the Human Rights situation in Belarus. The document reminded that the only conditions for development of relations with Brussels and admission of Belarus to the European political field were the 12 EU conditions for Belarus set forth in November 2006.
‘There will be no concessions to Belarusian authorities till the trampling of Human Rights in the country is stopped. It is not enough for Lukashenka to release several prisoners in a bargain with us,’ said the deputy of the European Parliament Elisabeth Schroedter in her interview with the Deutsche Welle.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
The administration of prison #3 sent an official note to Kazulin’s relatives to inform them that he was deprived of parole. In the document it was also stated that Kazulin did not step on the way of correction and behaved badly: he had allegedly violated the prison rules 10 times. Besides, as the Minister of Internal Affairs Uladzimir Navumau stated that Kazulin had no legal right to the short-term leave which had been given to him in connection with the death of wife, because he was officially divorced.
The investigation of the criminal case against the activist of the unregistered organization Initiative Andrei Kim ended. Kim was accused of ‘violence or threat of violence to a policeman’ (Article 364 of the Criminal Code). Kim was detained on 21 January for participation in a peaceful protest act of entrepreneurs and was imprisoned for 10 days for it. However, on 31 January he was not released from jail. Instead, he was transferred to pre-trial prison as a suspect in a crime. This restraint was appealed against to Tsentralny district court of Minsk, which on 14 February left it unchanged. The trial was closed. On 19 February this verdict was also upheld by Minsk city court.
In February the investigative board of the main police department of Minsk city executive committee set up a special group for investigation of the criminal case concerning organization of the unauthorized mass action on 10 January in Minsk. The criminal case was brought under two articles of the Criminal Code: Article 342, part 1 of the Criminal Code – ‘organization or active participation in group actions that grossly violate the public order’ and Article 339, part 2 – ‘hooliganism, performed by a group of individuals or connected with resistance’. Criminal charges were given to 13 persons: A. Baradzenka, A. Bondar, A. Charnyshou, A. Dubski, A. Kim, A. Koipish, M. Kryvau, M. Pashkevich, V. Siarheyeu, A. Straltsou, M. Subach, T. Tsishkevich, P.Vinahradau and M. Dashuk (under age). Actually, before this each of them served up to 15 days of arrest for participation in the action. Tatsiana Tsishkevich was sentenced even to 20 days. The suspects were interrogated.
A criminal case under Article 339, part 2 of the Criminal Code – ‘act of hooliganism, performed by a group of individuals’ was brought against Maxim Siarhiyets, Yuliya Subach and Matvei Bialiai (minor). The case concerns damage done to two police cars during the democratic rally European March. The officially stated sum of the damage is 8 691 879 rubles (about $4,000).
2. Torture and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
On 24 January Niasvizh district court found Alexander Kruty guilty under Article 368 – ‘public insult of president’, but abstained from punishment because the actions of the defendant did not present a large threat to society. Instead, the court ruled that Kruty was to be directed for forced psychiatric treatment for ‘paranoid schizophrenia’. Thus, instead of being released he was illegally detained in the pre-trial prison in Zhodzina for three weeks after the verdict was announced, because the court ruled that the restraint could be changed only after his forced placement to a psychiatric hospital.
The conditions which were created for Kruty in the prison can be considered as torture: all this time he was kept in a single cell for life convicts. He was prohibited from reading newspapers and books. The relatives weren’t allowed even to pass to him an English language textbook. The prison administration paid visits to all cells except for his.
On 19 February the College Board on criminal cases of Minsk regional court reversed the ruling of Niasvizh district court and dropped the case. Alexander Kruty was released from jail.
3. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 11 February youth activists Dzianis Hancharou, Palina Kuryianovich and Siarhei Rozum were detained for distribution of informational materials about the EU. They were escorted to Tsentralny district police department. There they were made to give statements. Several hours later they were released. The police composed no violation reports against them.
On 18 February the Economic Court of Vitsebsk region rejected the complaint of the closed company Publishing House Vitebskiy Kurier (the editorial board of the Vitebskiy Kurier M newspaper) against Vitsebsk regional executive committee, which groundlessly refused to re-register the enterprise. As a result the appeal against this verdict was filed to the same court. The issue of the non-state newspaper VitebskiyKurier M was suspended in spring 2007. Then the publishing house submitted to the executive committee a packet of documents for re-registration. At first the executive committee agreed to re-register the publishing house, but later the officials changed their mind, saying that it was because the editorial board hadn’t asked their agreement to location of its office and the office room did not correspond to presidential directive #1 On measures for strengthening the civil security and discipline.
Horki district executive committee did not let a member of the Belarusian Popular Front Party Eduard Brokarau issue newspapers. Brokarau wanted to receive a license for advertisement, trade and the issue of newspapers. In the answer to his application the chair of the executive committee Mikhail Anikeyeu wrote that three state newspapers were issued in the district and it was enough for informing the population. ‘They know me as an activist of the BPF Party and For Freedom movement and a man of democratic views. Now they are fighting against democrats with all means possible. They understand that I will never write about their mythic harvests and milk yields. I will write what I see. It is one of my principles. They don’t need the truth,’ commented Eduard.
Eduard Brokarau issues in Horki the newspapers Uzgorak and Horatski Vybar and edits the newspaper of Mahiliou regional coalition of pro-democratic forces Vybar.
4. Administrative punishment of public and political activists
On 12 February the leader of Salihorsk entrepreneurs Alexander Tsatsura was released from jail after 15-day arrest for collecting signatures for abolishment of president’s decree #760. On 13 February he was summoned to the road police office and familiarized with the official ruling on annulment of his driver’s license for two years. He was also fined 350 000 rubles ($163).
On 27 February the court of Minsk district and Zaslauye considered the administrative cases which had been brought against the members of Tsatsura’s family. That day a meeting of entrepreneurs took place in Minsk. Alexander Tsatsura was one of its organizers and was driving to Minsk by his minivan together with his wife, son and the entrepreneur Viktar Kryval. The road police stopped the car, took away Tsatsura’s driver’s license and accused him of driving on the left lane, when the right lane was free. Then Tsatsura and his passengers left the car and went to Minsk on foot. The police forcedly took them to Minsk district police department and detained there for seven hours, accusing them of insubordination to lawful demands of the policemen on duty (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code). Judge Siarhei Afonski found all defendants guilty. Alexander Tsatsura was fined 1 750 000 rubles (about $8 140), Tamara and Illia Tsatsura – 1 050 000 rubles (about $488) each, and Viktar Kryval (who was serving a 15-day arrest at that time) – 1 750 000 rubles as well.
In the beginning of February the police detained in the center of Homel Andrei Aliashkevich and Uladzimir Shumilin while they were handing out leaflets to inform the citizens about a public meeting with the leader of the For Freedom movement Alexander Milinkevich, which was not sanctioned by the local authorities. Aliashkevich and Shumilin were guarded to the police station, where about 1 000 leaflets were confiscated from them and administrative reports under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions) were drawn up against them.
On 12 February both activists were fined 1 050 000 rubles (about $488). The youngsters said that they had received the leaflets from the chair of the local office of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Katsora. That’s why the latter was summoned to the city police department and confirmed having produced the leaflets. A report under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of organizing or holding mass actions) was drawn up against him. Besides, the police searched the UCP office. On 13 February Katsora was tried at Savetski district court of Homel. The judge Alexander Kostsikau found him guilty under Article 23.34 and sentenced to 7 days of arrest.
5. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
On 15 February the leader of the youth wing of the BPF Party, the head of its cultural commission Franak Viachorka was familiarized with the order of the rector of Belarusian State University for his expulsion from the third year at the journalist faculty because of ‘poor academic progress’ (though the student always received an increased scholarship for his achievements in education). On 16 January Franak was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for ‘dirty swearing in public’. While appealing against this verdict he addressed the faculty administration, asking them to witness for him at the trial, but they refused to do it. At first the youth leader wanted to appeal against the expulsion to court, but then followed the lawyer’s advice and decided to try all pre-court instances first. He also directed a letter to the Minister of Education, Alexander Radzkou, and stated that during the exams the examination commissions seriously violated paragraph 1.1 of the Regulation concerning term works and exams in high schools, that’s why the marks were non-objective.
On 25 February member of the BPF Party, Ihar Pazharytski, was expelled from Horki Agricultural Academy. He has been dealing with the issue of the non-state bulletin Recha for several years already. Ihar tried to pass one of the winter exams four times and failed to get a positive mark. He was informed that he would have to pass the exam once again, this time to a board of examiners. However, when he came to the faculty to find when the commission would gather to listen to him, he was told that he was expelled. According to the chair of Horki BPF office, Eduard Brokarau, nobody issued to Pazharytski any written orders for his expulsion, that’s why he continued coming to classes.
6. Death penalty
On 5 February we learned from mass media that three leaders of the so-called ‘Marozau gang’ – Ihar Danchanka, Valery Harbaty, and Siarhei Marozau – were executed. The secretary general of the Council of Europe Terry Davis condemned the new facts of the use of death penalty in Belarus. ‘Of course, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, which abolished death penalty on the basis of protocol #6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but it is a member-country of the UN. However, the execution of Ihar Danchanka, Valery Harbaty, and Siarhei Marozau demonstrates a clear neglect towards the recent resolution of the UN General Assembly calling to a global moratorium on death penalty,’ Mr. Davis stated.
7. Freedom of conscience
On 5 February the pastor of the Protestant Church New Life, Viachaslau Hancharenka, and the lawyer of the church, Siarhei Lukanin, were summoned to Maskouski district prosecutor’s office of Minsk because of the refusal of the believers to let officers of housing economy into the church building. The vice-prosecutor, D. Zyranau, told Hancharenka and Lukanin to give statements and warned that the church could be fined under Article 23.1 of the Administrative Code in the case of repeated violation and that other measures of reaction could be taken as well.
On 11 February the pastors of more than 40 Belarusian churches of the Association of Communities of Full Evangelical Christians addressed Alexander Lukashenka with an open letter. They expressed their concern with the increased pressure on Protestant churches. A special attention was dedicated to the confrontation between the capital’s authorities and Minsk church New Life. ‘In this letter it is said that in the case the authorities continue pressure the bishop of our association, Viachaslau Hancharenka, its churches reserve the right to take part in actions of civil disobedience all over Belarus,’ Mr. Lukanin said.
At the end of February more than 50,000 signatures for amendment of the law On religious organizations and freedom of conscience were passed to the Constitutional Court of Belarus and to the presidential administration. It was a result of many months of work of believers of different Protestant churches within the limits of the campaign for freedom of belief. Among those who collected the signatures there are believers of the Association of Communities of Full Evangelical Christians, the religious community God’s Church, Minsk church Christ’s Testament and the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. Signatures were collected in more than 40 towns and cities of Belarus.
The organizing committee of the campaign For Freedom of Belief proposed the authorities to establish a working group for amendment of the law and restoration of the rights of believers of all confessions.
8. The right to peaceful assemblies
On 25 February there started the trial of the organizers of the democratic action European March, which was held on 14 October 2007. Yauhen Afnahel, Zmitser Khvedaruk, Viktar Ivashkevich, and Anatol Liabedzka were accused of having changed the action route. Another accusation was that the action participants covered with litter their way from Kastrychnitskaya Square to Banhalor Square. The Horremautador enterprise of Minsk city executive committee lodged a claim against them worth 2 135 974 rubles (about $1,000). The judge, Siarhei Barazna, announced a break in the trial due to the illness of one of the defendants, Viktar Ivashkevich.
In Baranavichy authorities prohibited the local entrepreneurs to hold a meeting with representatives of state organs. The meeting was appointed on 28 February, but the officials considered it ‘inexpedient’. However, the entrepreneurs again addressed Baranavichy city executive committee with the same proposal and demanded to be given a room for the meeting. They stated that otherwise they would gather on 1 March on the territory of Baranavichy cooperative market.
On 25 March Chyhunachny district court of Vitsebsk tried two democratic activists who were detained during a mournful action connected with the death of Iryna Kazulina. Barys Khamaida and Alena Zaleskaya were accused under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code – ‘violation of the rules of organizing or holding mass actions’. In the beginning of the trial the judge, Ala Bardziukova, granted Khamaida’s petition for services of interpreter into Belarusian and postponed the trial to 4 March.
9. Activities of security services
On 21 February Hrodna regional KGB office warned the civil activist, Edvard Dmukhouski, about inadmissibility of actions that grossly violated the public order. Dmukhouski believes that the KGB officer, Aleh Zhyvushka, tried to pressure him psychologically. After the talk Zhyvushka made Dmukhouski sign that he had been familiarized with the consequences of his possible illegal activities and also informed the activist that in the case of violation under Article 342 the case against him would be passed to the prosecutor’s office.