Review-chronicle of human rights violations in Belarus in September 2008
On 2 September the presentation of the report Incarceration conditions in the Republic of Belarus, prepared by the International Federation for Human Rights with the aid of Belarusian Human Rights defenders, took place in Minsk. The report was composed on the basis of an international research mission and is a valuable source of information about the incarceration conditions in Belarus, as there is almost no reliable information on this issue due to absence of supervision over the penitentiary system in Belarus by any national or international agencies and institutions. During the presentation the FIDH secretary general, Louis Peres, welcomed the release of the last political prisoners by the Belarusian authorities, but stated that the situation of Human Rights in Belarus was still disturbing and the incarceration conditions in the country were extremely unsatisfactory and could be considered as a form of inhuman treatment, which is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
On 28 September the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the fourth convocation took place. The elections were accompanied by Human Rights violations. The fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of peaceful assemblies and associations, remained considerably restricted. The authorities continued persecuting their opponents, which did not let to create the atmosphere of trust and confidence. Despite numerous promises of the officials to hold free and democratic elections, the OSCE recommendations that had been made during the previous elections were not implemented. The Central commission for holding of elections and republican referenda refused to hold negotiations with representatives of the United democratic forces concerning the improvement of the conditions for the election campaigning.
According to the official information, the turnout was 75,3% and all 110 MPs were elected in the first vote. According to the head of the Central election commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, about two billion rubles were saved as a result. These means will be mostly spend on bonuses to members of electoral commissions. The list of the deputies voiced by Lidziya Yarmoshyna was almost the same as the list that had been sent to an independent newspaper Narodnaya Volia by an anonymous official and published several days before the elections.
263 candidates participated in the electoral race. According to the UDF, 66 representatives of the opposition were left during the last stage. There were no oppositional candidates in about 30 constituencies. Non-alternative elections took place in 16 constituencies. After calculation of votes the Central electoral commission received 24 complaints with the requirement to find the elections invalid. The results of the elections were disputed in 20 constituencies, but the CEC refused to consider the complaints and forwarded them to constituency election commissions.
Human Rights defenders conducted long-term monitoring of the elections at 86 constituencies. They concluded that the procedure of forming of constituency and precinct election commissions was performed with grave violations, people were forced to vote during the five days of early voting, the registration of candidates lacked transparency, the elections were closed and corresponded neither to the standards of the Copenhagen OSCE document, nor to the Belarusian legislation. Violations of the rules during calculation of votes made it impossible for the observers to really watch this procedure, which gives reasons for mistrust to the officially declared results.
Early voting started on 23 September. Among the typical violations on this stage the members of the campaign Human Rights activists for free elections registered concealment of all kinds of information from domestic observers by members of election commissions (for instance, the observers were not told the number of the ballots received by precinct commissions from constituency commissions, the number of the persons included in the lists of legally registered voters and the turnout). On the first day of early voting at some precincts the ballot boxes were sealed without being examined by members of precinct election commissions.
Numerous cases of forced early voting were registered all over the country at enterprises and educational establishments. Printed calls to early voting were placed in shops, hairdressers’, saunas, and hostels. Besides, the authorities consciously concealed it from the electors that according to the law the right to vote early could only be used if an elector had no opportunity to stay in the place of residence on the Election Day. Public and political activists were detained. Agitation materials were confiscated. On 23 September Yury Dziadzinkin, a journalist for Narodnaya Volia, was prohibited to take a photo at precinct #398 in Minsk. The commission members referred to the appropriate ruling of the head of the commission. Later the secretary of the Central election commission, Mikalai Lazavik, explained it with the journalist’s failure to establish good relations with the commission members. Facts of violence were registered as well. On 28 September at 8 p.m. unidentified persons beat Uladzimir Bazan, editor of the non-state newspaper Kurier iz Vitebska and an observer at precinct #34 of Vitsebsk Kastrychnitskaya election constituency #20. The independent candidate Andrei Levinau was also beaten in the porch of his house. Both cases took place in Vitsebsk.
The international observation mission of the OSCE concluded that the Parliamentary elections in Belarus did not correspond to the democratic standards and stated that there were many violations and falsifications. The USA did not recognize the results of the elections either. Only the mission of CIS observers declared the elections in Belarus free and democratic.
Oppositionists and independent observers declared that the results of the elections were forged and the turnout was overrated. On 28 September a peaceful action of protest against the rigged elections took part in the center of Minsk. The minister of interior Uladzimir Navumau called it a rude violation of law and order and threatened that a ‘legal evaluation’ would be given to it.
The head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Zhana Litvina, became the holder of the Human Rights prize of Friedrich Ebert Foundation for 2008.
1. Fines and arrests
In September Kletsk district executive committee adopted ruling #886 On empowering the duty officials of Kletsk district executive committee to draw up reports on administrative violations.
The local dwellers were warned about it by the publication in the local state newspaper Da Novykh Peramoh, where it was written that some of the officers of Kletsk DEC gave themselves the right to draw up reports under a number of articles of the Administrative Code (in order to fine the local dwellers) and would receive the appropriate blanks for it. The list of the ‘executive officers’ included the deputy heads of the DEC, the heads of its departments, main specialists, policemen and officers of the ideological department.
By this ruling Kletsk district executive committee also obliged all village executive committees on the territory of Kletsk district to adopt similar rulings and empower their workers to fine their fellow villagers: for throwing litter in the streets, using foul language and insulting the officials during visits to their offices. The total number of ‘fine’ articles is more than 45.
On 5 September Savetski district court of Minsk punished the youth activist, Vadzim Khaniauka, with 15 days of arrest for ‘disorderly conduct’. After his release from jail Vadzim told about the details of his detention. ‘As soon as I entered the garage where I kept some materials related to the Boycott campaign, a police car with riot policemen arrived. They must have been watching me. They knocked me down and started beating. Then they drove me to Savetski district police department and drew up a false report,’ he said.
On 5 September the police also detained the activist of Young Front, Dzianis Karnou. The police and KGB officers conducted a search in his apartment. Some hours later Karnou was released from the police station.
On 13 September, during the official celebration of the 866th anniversary of Homel, activists of Young Front raised a white-red-white flag in front of the eyes of the authorities. The police seized Andrei Tsianiuta, knocked him down and started beating him. As a result he got a knee injury and dislocation of a finger. At the police station the policemen drew several reports in which the detainee was accused of dirty swearing and resistance to the police. Andrei spent the night in a small room on a concrete floor. In the morning he demanded that a doctor was called. The medics diagnosed him with pneumonia. Nevertheless, the Young Front activist was set free only after 15 hours.
In the night of 14-15 September the youth activists Mikhail Iliin and Yauhen Skrabets were detained for the Boycott! graffiti. In the morning, when it was found that a criminal case could not be broguth for the harm inflicted, the police drew a report under Article 17.1 (disorderly conduct). Maskouski district court of Brest punished the activists with five days of arrest.
On 23 September Andrei Tsianiuta was set down from a train to Minsk. The police accused him of evasion from trial. Andrei was again locked in an isolation ward for the night. The following morning Chyhunachny district court of Homel sentenced Tsianiuta to seven days of jail and fined him 700,000 rubles (about $325).
On 29 September the commission on affairs of minors of Salihorsk district executive committee considered the administrative cases against participants of a picket against the war in Georgia that had been conducted near the Russian Embassy in Minsk on 11 August. The action was violently disbanded by the police. The commission delivered a warning to 16-year-old Illia Shyla. His elder brother Ivan was fined 875,000 rubles (about $400).
2. Torture and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
On 1 September in Salihorsk the police detained and beat Yana Paliakova, a member of the electoral team of a candidate Volha Kazulina. Three policemen escorted her to the police station, where the woman felt bad, after which an ambulance escorted her to the hospital under the police surveillance. The medics registered bodily injures on one hand and both legs. Yana Paliakova addressed the procuracy with the request to hold a check-up concerning the abuse of official powers by the police officers.
On 7 September the member of the youth wing of the United Civil Party, Yury Panasiuk, told Human Rights defenders about the unlawful actions of officers of secret services including tortures. They approached him in the street and one of them hit him in the chest without saying anything. Two others seized him by the hands, handcuffed him and then threw on the back seat of their car. Then they started asking him about the explosion that had taken place in Minsk on 4 July. Suddenly one of them took out a knife. Trying to protect himself from it, Panasiuk had two fingers on the left hand cut. He was hit in the head several times and then was thrown out of the car. Yury considers it as an attempt to intimidate youth activists.
3. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 9 September Iuyue district court considered the lawsuit of the head of Hrodna regional KGB office, I. Siarhiyenka, in which he demanded that issue #127 of the independent newspaper Svaboda (14-27 August 2008) was confessed extremist. Judge A.Toustsik agreed that the newspaper contained materials that propagated extremist activities and genocide of the Osetian people by the Georgian authorities, and ruled that the whole circulation of the newspaper that had been confiscated on 19 August was to be destroyed. It was the first of a number of similar trials concerning ‘extremist materials that initiated by Hrodna regional KGB office.
On 18 September a preliminary meeting of the sides on the civil case On confessing of informational materials as extremist took place at Kastrychnitski district court of Hrodna. The case was brought on the initiative of Hrodna regional KGB department. As it was found at the trial, nine persons from whom ‘potential extremist’ production had been confiscated during the recent years were defendants in the case: Barys Haretski, the member of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Laryn, Zmitser Malchyk, Yury Martsinovich, the journalist Andzhei Pisalnik, the Human Rights defender Valer Shchukin, Yauhen Skrabutan, Aliaksei Trubkin and Stanislau Yodka. Among the ‘extremist materials’ there was the Review-chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in 2004 (prepared by HRC Viasna), confiscated by the customs officers from Aliaksei Trubkin. According to the court verdict, the book ‘contains a considerable number of photos from mass unauthorized protest actions in the Republic of Belarus (Freedom Day, Chernobyl Way, Dziady) of anti-Belarusian orientation, and materials with traits of calls to seizure of the state power in a non-Constitutional way and organization of mass riot’.
Only three out of nine defendants came to the court. After a separate talk with each of them the judge Alexander Sitsko said that that case would be considered in October. No journalists and Human Rights defenders were allowed to be present during the ‘conversations’.
On 15 September judge of Pukhavichy district court, Liliya Rukhlevich, rejected the lawsuit of the dwellers of the settlement of Druzhny against Pukhavichy district executive committee. By this verdict the citizens were prohibited to familiarize with documents of Pukhavichy district executive committee related to the planned construction of a chemical plant by a Russian private company Avgust-Bel. ‘Apart from ecological information these documents witness that the local population protests against construction of this plant. That’s why it very necessary for us to receive them. We are trying to prove that the people expressed their negative attitude to such plans, and that the authorities lie about it,’ said Nastassia Rysiavets. According to her, on 3 September Pukhavichy district court held a preliminary meeting with the plaintiffs. On 10 September the court requested from Pukhavichy DEC the documents related to construction of the plant, but on 12 September only the judge and the prosecutor familiarized with them.
On 14 September the Young Front activist, Andrei Tychyna, was detained at the central market of Salihorsk for distribution of the independent newspaper Svabodny Salihorsk. The police handcuffed him and escorted to the police station. 40 copies of the newspaper were confiscated from the detainees and an appropriate report was drawn up. In an hour the youngster was let go.
4. The right to peaceful assemblies
On 12 September the vice-head of Young Front, Nasta Palazhanka, addressed Minsk city executive committee with the request to authorize a picket, which the opposition intended to hold on 28 September in Kastrychnitskaya Square in order to inform the Belarusian society about falsifications and repressions during the electoral farce. The city’s authorities answered with a refusal. Moreover, on the eve of the action its organizers were called to the police and prosecutor’s office, one by one. All of them were warned about possible criminal punishment.
On 15 September activists of Polatsk branch of Young Front were refused the authorization of the picket Boycott 2008, which they intended to hold on 20 September. The official reason for the refusal was that a children’s movie was to be shown in the nearest cinema and the action could hinder the spectators. ‘It is an evident law violation, that’s why we have already applied Polatsk town executive committee, the prosecutor’s office, the local election commission and the Central election commission’, stated an activist of Young Front Ales Krutkin. Bear in mind that several days before it the secretary of the Central election commission, Mikalai Lazavik, said that it was not prohibited to agitate for boycott of parliamentary elections.
The authorities of Barysau banned the festival of Christian music that was organized by representatives of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant confessions. About a hundred of musicians and singers from different parts of Belarus were to have taken part in it. The festival was to have lasted from 16 to 21 September. About 1,5 thousand people gathered for the action. However, ten minutes before its beginning a representative of the ideological department of Barysau stated that the permission for holding the act ‘lost its legal force’ and the festival was prohibited. She explained that the organizers did not check the program of the festival with the authorities. They also allegedly did not solve the security issues and did not organize the cleaning of the territory after its end.
5. The right to association
On 30 September Rechytsa district court started considering the preliminary lawsuit of the independent Belarusian trade union of radio electronic industry against Rechytsa district executive committee concerning the refusal of the latter to register a district trade union unit. The judge, Anatol Strelchanka, requested the appropriate documents confirming the admission of new members to the trade union and the legality of creation of the territorial unit.
By the way, it was already the second trial in Rechytsa concerning non-registration of new units of the trade union by the local authorities. In summer the same judge rejected a similar suit of the trade union. He stated that it was an argument of two subjects of economy and it was not in his powers to consider such cases.
6. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
In the beginning of September a first-year student, Rastsislau Pankratau, was expelled from Mahiliou State University. The official reason is ‘poor academic progress’, but the activist considers it as revenge for his public and political activities. Before the expulsion he was visited many times by KGB officers, who threatened him.
A member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, Tatsiana Shambalava, who participated in the electoral campaign as a pretender for candidate from the United democratic forces, was also expelled from Mahiliou State University.
The activist of Young Front, Mikola Dzemidzenka, was expelled from Polatsk State University. Before the expulsion he was detained several times by the police for distributing agitation materials and Boycott stickers.
Katsus Zhukouski, Homel coordinator of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, was dismissed from after a visit of unidentified persons to the director of his enterprise. After a conversation with them the director advised Zhukouski to revoke the application for registration of his initiative group. The activist refused. Then the director told him to write an application for stopping on his own will. The head of Zhukouski’s initiative group, Alexander Sivakou, was also fired after his boss advised him to stop his electoral activities.
On 29 September the administration of the Central clinical hospital, where Ivan Bedka, the head of the electoral headquarters of the oppositional candidate Ivan Sheha, was working as an orderly, broke the working contract with him before the expiry of the contract term. No statements were offered to Bedka. A year was left for Bedka to his pension. ‘I am going to appeal against the dismissal at court, as employment contracts can be stopped when at least three years are left to pension’, said the activist.
7. Freedom of conscience
In the evening of 10 September, during the regular prayer for return of the building of Minsk St. Joseph church (a monument of Baroque architecture, built in the 17th century) to the believers, the head of a department of the Committee on national and religious affairs Alexander Kalinau met with the believers. He promised that the temple would be returned to them and called them to stop the termless fast by which they were trying to get the building back.
8. Capital punishment
As stated by the head of the Supreme Court, Valiantsin Sukala, at the press-conference in Minsk on 9 September, in 2008 only one person was sentenced to death in Belarus. According to the official, this number witnesses that death penalty is used very rarely and Belarus almost reached a moratorium on it. He also pointed that the introduction of a moratorium was in the competency of the president and the legislative authorities, but the judges were psychologically ready to it. ‘On the other hand’, Sukala stated, ‘we mustn’t forget about the results of the 1996 referendum, at which the majority of citizens of Belarus supported the use of capital punishment’.
9. Politically motivated criminal cases
The Polish MPs nominated the ex-candidate for presidency and ex-political prisoner Alexander Kazilin for Andrey Sakharov prize, awarded by the European Parliament. The prize holder was to be declared in the middle of October. The Andrey Sakharov prize For Freedom of Thought was founded by the European Parliament in 1988. It is awarded every year for merits in protection of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms. In 2004 the prize was awarded to the Belarusian Association of Journalists and in 2006 – to the former candidate for president, leader of the unregistered movement For Freedom, Alexander Milinkevich.