Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in May 2008
In May the politically motivated court processes against participants of peaceful street actions continued. The youth activists Maxim Dashuk, Pavel Vinahradau, and Mikhail Subach were sentenced to personal restraint. Thus, the number of political prisoners increased.
Minsk city court turned down the appeal of the political prisoner Siarhei Parsiukevich against the verdict by which he had been sentenced to 2.5 years of jail. Parsiukevich had chronic illnesses and needed an urgent operation. On 26 May Parsiukevich’s mother submitted an individual appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee because of violation of her son’s right to freedom and personal immunity, guaranteed by Article 9 of the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights, because after the detention Parsiukevich had the right to be immediately taken to court, which was to decide whether he was to be arrested or released.
The political prisoner Andrei Kim was transferred to Babruisk penal colony. On 2 May the lawyer lodged cassation appeal against the verdict to him.
On 29 March the presentation of the book Thirst for Spring: politically motivated criminal cases in 2007 took place. The book was compiled by Belarusian Human Rights defenders. It includes publicist articles by different authors. Nasta Azarka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Zmitser Fedaruk, Arthur Finkevich, Barys Haretski, Yaraslau Hryshchenia, Natallia Iliinich, Andrei Klimau, Aleh Korban, Kanstantsin Lukashou, Nasta Palazhanka, Valery Shchukin, Ivan Shyla and Aliaksei Yanusheuski are the main characters of the book. The date of presentation was symbolic, because on 29 Mary 2007 the verdicts on the criminal case against five Young Front members were pronounced. The name of the book is also symbolic: it can be interpreted as an allusion to the events in Prague in the beginning of 1990-ies and as a hint that the characters of the book thirst for spring in Belarus.
In May the Belarusian authorities continued pressurizing public and political activists and punishing them with fines and arrests. The detention of about 30 members of the civil campaign European Belarus on 1 May looked absurd. At 12 a.m. the activists came to the National Library, to the celebration of May Day by the official trade unions, and unfolded the EU flags there. The riot squad used violence during the detentions. Six persons were sentenced to different terms of arrest. The chairman of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Narodnaya Hramada Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to ten days of arrest for congratulating the present people on the holiday through a loud speaker!
Another absurd case is punishment of the journalist and editor, Viktar Hursik, with 15 days of arrest for installment of a cross in the memory of the victims of the Soviet partisans in the village of Drazhna. Khursik was accused of organization of unauthorized action. Earlier the democratic activist,Viachalsau Siuchyk, served the same term of arrest on this case. The cross was dismantled on the order of the local authorities.
Escalation of the diplomatic conflict between the Belarusian authorities and the US continued as well. Following the expulsion of American diplomats and the threats to liquidate the US Embassy in Minsk State TV regularly accused Americans of espionage and financing the Belarusian opposition. ‘American corners’ were liquidated from the libraries of Belarus. Librarians did not hide the political motivation for closing these sections, the opening and stocking of which were financed by the US Embassy, which spent more than $400,000 to supply the ‘American corners’ with books, audio and video-materials, computers and other equipment.
The Human Rights organization Amnesty International published its yearly report on the situation of Human Rights in the world (for May 2007- May 2008). The pressure of civil society and opposition activists and the usage of capital punishment are noted in Belarus’ section of the report. The struggle against capital punishment has been one of the main directions of the AI activity since the very beginning. The juridical practice in Belarus challenges the aims of this organization. Belarus is the only country in Europe and Central Asia that continues using capital punishment. The report draws numerous cases of criminal persecution for ‘actions on behalf of unregistered organization’, and the case of the Human Rights Center Viasna that was liquidated in October 2003. In July 2007 the UN Human Rights Committee considered the appeal against the liquidation of Viasna and ruled that by this liquidation the Belarusian authorities had violated the right to association and proposed that they improve the situation. However, the authorities ignored the proposal.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 2 May the entrepreneur Siarhei Parsiukevich was transferred to the pre-trial prison in Zhodzina due to the repairs of the pre-trial prison in Minsk. The following day he had a meeting with his lawyer, Vera Stramkouskaya. She pointed that Parsiukevich felt bad and needed a medical operation because of polyposis. According to Stramkouskaya, the prisoner applied for early transfer to a penal colony, because from there he could be directed to the republican prison hospital for operation. On 21 May Siarhei Parsiukevich was placed to the medical department of the penal colony in Zhodzina, to a ward with psychically ill people. In a letter to his wife Parsiukevich wrote that he regretted the transfer to the medical department, as he was getting no real aid there.
On 30 May the college board of Minsk city court, headed by the judge Kamisarau considered the cassation complaint of Siarhei Parsiukevich. The arguments of the defense were ignored and the sentence was left in force.
On 27 May the judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Valery Yesman issued verdicts to three more accused in the ‘process of 14’ (participants of the peaceful protest action of entrepreneurs on 10 January 2008). Maxim Dashuk, Mikhail Subach and Pavel Vinahradau were found guilty under Article 342, part 1 of the Criminal Code – ‘organization or active participation in the group actions that grossly violate the public order’ and sentenced to personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary institutions. Subach and Vinahradau got two years of personal restraint and Maxim Dashuk (who was under age) – 1.5 years. The last accused in the ‘process of 14’, Alexander Barazenka, was studying in a university in Wroclaw, Poland. He did not come to the trial and was wanted.
On 2 May in the republican prison hospital the prisoner Andrei Kim had the first meeting with his mother after the trial. ‘The meeting lasted for about an hour’, said Tatsiana Kim. ‘Andrei looks cheerful and tries to soothe me so that I would not worry. His eyesight is getting worse and his eyes are red because of inflammation. I cannot say anything more than that, as the regime in the prison hospital is even closer than in the pre-trial prison.’
Upon being released from the hospital Andrei Kim was transferred to penal colony #2 in Babruisk. Tatsiana Kim found about it when she brought a parcel for Andrei to the pre-trial prison in Minsk. The cassation complaint against the verdict to Andrei Kim was passed on 2 May.
2. Administrative punishments to public and political activists
On 2 May the judge Yury Harbatouski found the politician Mikalai Statkevich guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions) and sentenced him to 10 days of arrest. On 1 May Statkevich was detained by the police near the National Library, at the official celebration of the Labor Day. He was kept in the remand prison in Akrestsin Street till trial. Commenting on the verdict Statkevich said he was imprisoned for ‘unauthorized rally at authorized rally’.
On 15 May Pershamaiski district court of Minsk sentenced in absentia the youth activists Yauhen Afnahel, Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich and Pavel Yukhnevich to seven days of arrest on the same charges as Statkevich. After the detention on 1 May the police drew up violation reports against them for bringing the EU flags. However, since then they have received no summons to court.
On 3 May the judge of Krupki district court Andrei Siz considered two violation reports under Article 23.34, drawn up against the well-known Belarusian artist Ales Pushkin for congratulations of passers-by on the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic. The artist was sentenced to a fine of 875 000 rubles (about $411).
On 22 May the judge of Pukhavichy district court Sviatlana Akulich fined the public activist Siarhei Abrazouski 1.4 million rubles (about $657) for alleged organizing in the settlement of Druzhny an unauthorized rally against construction of a chemical plant. Earlier Abrazouski was fined the same sum for another spontaneous meeting of protest, which took place on 22 March. The activist considers it as an attempt of the authorities to intimidate him. He stated that no one could stop the people’s struggle against the construction of a pesticide plant in the location where refugees from Chernobyl-polluted areas lived.
On 23 May Hrodna city department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations fined the chairman of Hrodna branch of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin 1 050 000 rubles (about $493) for alleged violation of fire security. The real reason for persecution is that on 13 May Istomin, supported by the General Consulate of Poland in Belarus, organized a concert of the Polish band Transkapela in the office of the United Civil Party.
On 27 May the judge of Chyhunachny district court of Vitsebsk Valiantsina Kismiaroshkina sentenced in absentia the Human Rights defender Pavel Levinau to 10 days of arrest under Article 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and to a fine of 700 000 Rubles (about $329) under Article 23.4 (insubordination to the lawful demands of the police) in connection with the events that had taken place during the search at the apartment of Vitsebsk journalist Vadzim Barshcheuski on 27 March.
3. The right to association
The Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus delayed the decision on registration of the public association Center for support of Chernobyl initiatives. In the ministry’s answer it was stated that a positive decision could not be taken as certain paragraphs of the organization charter did not completely correspond to articles 9 and 10 of the Law On public associations. That’s why the ministry decided to give the organization one month for correction of the registration documents. The head of the Center for support of Chernobyl initiatives, academician Ivan Nikitchanka, said that the real reasons for the registration delay were political.
The review instance of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus upheld the verdict of the Supreme Court of 26 October 2007 for turning down the appeal of the public Human Rights association Viasna against its non-registration by the Ministry of Justice. In the letter signed by the deputy chairman of the Supreme Court V. Vyshkevich it is said that the review complaint of Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich could not be granted. The Supreme Court did not agree with their arguments that the ministry hadn’t provided any term for correction of the mistakes in the registration documents, because ‘provision of such a term, according to Article 15 of the Law On public associations is a right, not an obligation of the registering agency’.
On 29 May the Supreme Court ruled to liquidate Hrodna regional branch of the NGO BPF Adradzhenne because of absence of office and legal address. ‘Two years ago we were deprived of the premises where Hrodna regional, Hrodna city and two district branches were registered. As the rent fees for NGOs have been increased ten times, we did not manage to find an office we could rent,’ explained the head of Hrodna regional branch of BPF Adradzhenne Siarhei Malchyk.
4. Torture and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
In May the inhuman conditions in the Bahusheuski tuberculosis hospital in Vitsebsk region made the patients address the independent mass media. Human Rights defenders from Orsha and a correspondent of Popular News of Vitsebsk (http://news.vitsebsk.cc) visited the hospital. The ill complained about violations of the sanitation rules, malnutrition and absence of the radio, TV and newspapers, the possibility to use shower or sauna and restrictions of walks.
On 20 May the patients Natallia and Valery Drabysheuski were released from the hospital because of dissemination of information about the conditions in it. Orsha district prosecutor’s office turned down the complaint against bad conditions in the hospital. Workers of the prosecutor’s office explained that the hospital was situated in another district, but the Drabysheuskis considered such decision illegal, as they were citizens of Orsha. Then they mailed complaints to the prosecutor’s offices of Orsha and Sianno and to Vitsebsk regional health care department.
Bear in mind that in the beginning of 2008 the patients of the tuberculosis hospital in the settlement of Navayelnia in Hrodna regional went on a hunger-strike of protest against the unsatisfactory conditions. Meanwhile, 2008 has been officially declared the year of health in Belarus.
On 29 May in the evening in Babruisk the public activist Ales Chyhir was detained by the police while returning home together with his family after celebration of his birthday. He was guarded to police department #1 of Babruisk town executive committee. The detention could be connected to the fact that Lukashenka was to come to the opening of the ice palace in Babruisk. The police drew up violation reports against the activist, in which they accused him of disorderly conduct and insubordination to the police. They also beat him. ‘They beat me professionally: stretched out my neck, raised me by the hair and made ‘swallow’ (handcuffed the feet and arms together behind the back). I was lying on the ground and they put their feet on me… This action was directed by the police major Toustsik, assisted by sergeant Pasholkin. They said they would cut my fingers off,’ said Chyhir.
On 30 May the activist was taken to court, but the judge Natallia Charapukha returned the case to the police because of the mistakes in the reports. Ales Chyhir was released and went to the forensic expertise to register the beating. He also lodged a complaint to the MIA department of internal investigations against the unlawful actions of the police officers.
5. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 3 May, the Universal Day of Press, representatives of the United Democratic Forces intended to hold an action of solidarity with the independent media of Belarus in Minsk. However, the police did not let them hand out the non-state newspapers Narodnaya Volia, Tovarishch and Nasha Niva near the Main Post Office. The republican prosecutor’s office refused to accept the complaint of the action participants against the actions of the police, and Uladzimir Stanilevich, deputy chairman of the main police department of Minsk city executive committee, warned that if the activists handed out the press it would be qualified as an unauthorized mass action.
On 13 May the member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Eduard Melnikau, coordinator of the BelSat satellite TV channel, was summoned to the KGB office for interrogation as a witness. The interrogation was lead by the investigator of especially important cases Viktar Shaban and concerned a criminal case on political cartoons that was brought in 2005. Bear in mind that on 27-28 March the offices of several mass media and the apartments of a number of journalists (including Melnikau) were searched, though victims of the unsanctioned searches could hardly have any relation to the cartoons which were put on the web three years ago. ‘I was asked about my involvement with BelSat. I said that I was dealing with the official registration of this TV channel in Belarus and was doing it legally. I have no relation to the cartoons and informed the investigator about it,’ said Eduard Melnikau.
On 16 May Tsentralny district court of Minsk sentenced the non-staff correspondent of the Nasha Niva newspaper Yaraslau Stseshyk to 5 days of arrest under Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code (disorderly conduct). The day before the journalist was detained near the supermarket in Niamiha Street, where participants of the underground youth movement Bunt were holding a poll. At the trial Stseshyk explained that he was just taking photos of the action and the policemen threatened him with ‘trouble’, because he photographed their faces.
On 16 May it became known that the latest issue of the non-state newspaper Borisovskiye Novosti did not reach its readers in time. The matter was that the administration of the printing house where the edition was printed noticed a small article about the youngest son of Alexander Lukashenka (about four years old), and refused to print the newspaper. Then the editor concluded an agreement for printing of this issue with another printing house. Thus, the issue was printed with a delay.
On 28 May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to issue official accreditation to the correspondent of Radio Racyja Aliaksei Minchonak because ‘earlier he worked as a journalist for foreign mass media without official accreditation’. The journalist decided to apply for accreditation after the searches in the offices of independent radio stations on 27-28 March. This initiative was supported by the administration of Radio Racyja. However, Minchonak was not accredited by the ministry, though he brought there all the necessary documents.
6. The right to peaceful assemblies
On 21 May the activist of the movement For Freedom, member of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Katsora lodged an individual complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee. The matter was that during the last two years he had been arrested five times for his political activities. All in all, he spent in jail almost 40 days, 17 of them –for alleged violations of the law On mass actions. In his complaint Katsora writes that the police and the court violated not only the Constitution, but also Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by punishing him for organizing public meetings with the politician Alexander Milinkevich.
In April Homel city executive committee published in the local state press its ruling #299 concerning the new rules for holding mass actions in the city. From now on representatives of political parties and NGOs must attach to their applications for authorization of pickets and meetings agreements with the police (for securing the public order), with the central city polyclinics (for medical service) and with the HarSAP state enterprise (for cleaning the streets after the actions). Lawyer Leanid Sudalenka, chairman of Homel city organization of the republican NGO Legal Initiative, commented: ‘This ruling of the executive committee contradicts not only to the Constitution, but also to the international undertakings of Belarus in the sphere of Human Rights. This ruling legalizes requisitions from citizens.’ Meanwhile, shortly before this Homel city executive committee prohibited all meetings and pickets initiated by NGOs and political parties, including the actions that concerned Chernobyl problems and liquidation of social guarantees. In 2007 refusals were received by 74 persons. Appeals to court gave no result. The court stated that the authorities had the right to ban pickets and meetings in order to protect the public order.
7. Activities of security services
Mr. Kandratouski, chairman of the psychoneurologic department of the central hospital in Slonim, received a letter signed by the chair of the local KGB office Alexander Mazalkou. By this letter he was ordered to check whether the chief editor of the non-state newspaper Hazeta Slonimskaya Viktar Valadashchuk and his relatives were on the register at the psychoneurological dispenser and drug abuse clinics. Besides, the military commissioner of Slonim district Yury Trush proposed that Valadashchuk should sign the agreement for a check-up by KGB, ensuing in temporary restriction of his personal immunity and privacy. Mr. Valadashchuk stated that such actions were a manifestation of the wish of the authorities to liquidate Hazeta Slonimskaya, because at the same time the tax inspection intended to check-up the accountancy of the newspaper and the district executive committee will consider the question of prolonging the license for business activity.
On 23 May three KGB officers suddenly burst into the apartment of the Human Rights activist from Vitsebsk, Leanid Svetsik. They showed him the ruling of the prosecutor’s office for initiation of criminal proceedings under Article 130.1 of the Criminal Case of the Republic of Belarus (fomentation of national and religious enmity). According to this ruling, Mr. Svetsik was considered a witness in the case of threats to certain citizens from the side of the underground neo-Nazi organization Russian National Unity (RNE).
The KGB officers also brought with them several persons to witness the search that was directed by the senior lieutenant of KGB and lasted 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the search the KGB confiscated from Svetsik his computer and supplies and printed Human Rights editions including the calendars which were dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the UNO.