Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in December 2008
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The last month of the year summed up its results and eloquently showed that, despite the demonstrative wish of the authorities to lead a dialogue with the West, the situation of Human Rights remained the same. On one hand, two (only two!) independent newspapers were returned to the state distribution system, the republican Human Rights and the educational association For Freedom was registered (on the fourth attempt). On the other hand, the pressurization of dissidents continued.
On 10 December the universal community celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not only did the Belarusian authorities ignore this date, they also took all measures to prevent Human Rights defenders from organizing any festive events.
Belarus still practiced politically motivated criminal persecution of participants of peaceful democratic actions. In December Alexander Barazenka, the last defendant in the ‘process of 14’, was sentenced to personal restraint.
The international Human Rights organization Amnesty International published its report on the situation of Human Rights in the world for May 2007 – May 2008. In Belarus’ section one can read about pressurization of the civil society by the authorities, juridical persecution of oppositional activists and execution of death convicts. Struggle against death penalty has been one of the AI priorities since the time of its creation. The legal practice in Belarus presents a challenge in this respect, as Belarus is the only country in Europe and in the post-Soviet region that still has not refused from capital punishment. The report also draws numerous cases of criminal persecution of activists of Young Front for ‘activities on behalf of unregistered organization’ and mentions the case of the Human Rights Center Viasna, liquidated by the Belarusian authorities in October 2003. In July 2007 the UN Human Rights Committee issued a ruling, by which this liquidation was qualified as a violation of the right to association and the Belarusian authorities were proposed to immediately correct the situation. The Belarusian authorities ignored this recommendation. In the report of Amnesty International it is stated that Belarus remains a non-free country.
A democratic country cannot exist without freedom of expression, which is a daily issue in Belarus. Independent mass media are pressurized, while forced subscription is organized for the state press. In particular, at the end of December a number of state bodies, organizations and enterprises participated in the campaign on obligatory subscription to the state press. The editors of Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volia, in their turn, urged the readers not to trust to the Belsayuzdruk newsstands and get non-state newspapers by subscription. Meanwhile, other non-state newspapers are still deprived of the opportunity to be distributed by the state monopolists Belsayuzdruk and BelPoshta. Such socio-political editions as Tovarishch, Novy Chas, Bobruiskiy Kurier, Borisovskiye Novost, Vitebskiy Kurier M, Volnaye Hlybokaye, Hazeta Slonimskaya, Hantsavitski Chas and Intex-press are neither sold at the newsstands nor distributed by subscription. According to the lawyers of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2008 the situation of freedom of expression in Belarus was extremely hard. ‘The authorities continued pushing non-state media out of the informational field with administrative means,’ said Mikhail Pastukhou.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 8-9 December the hearings on the criminal case against the youth activist, Alexander Barazenka, were held at Tsentralny district court of Minsk. The case was brought under Article 342, part 1 of the Criminal Code, ‘organization of or active participation in the group actions that grossly violate the public order’. Since 27 October Barazenka was kept in the pre-trial prison in Valadarski Street. His friends held numerous actions of solidarity with him near the prison. More than fifty people came to the trial, including political and public activists, entrepreneurs, Human Rights defenders and youth. However, not all of them managed to get into the court hall, as policemen in civvies put there a large group of students to fill the places. Under the vigilant surveillance of the police youth activists unfurled banners and raised flags in the court yard. Two police cars kept watch near the court building.
The court questioned as witnesses four directors of transport enterprises, who stated that their enterprises did not suffer any financial loss as a result of the act of protest in which Barazenka had participated, because the traffic is interrupted in the center of Minsk almost every day, also in connection with the movement of Alexander Lukashenka’s cortege. The court also watched the videos that were shot by officers of law-enforcement agencies. However, the shown fragments consisted of general views from which Barazenka could not be seen. Nevertheless, the judge Natallia Vaitsiakhovich sentenced Alexander Barazenka to one year of personal restraint without direction to an open penitentiary institution. The activist did not agree with the verdict and expressed his intention to appeal against it at superior court instances.
2. Persecution of Human Rights defenders
On 4 December the police captain Yauhen Bakharevich came to the apartment of Baranavichy Human Rights defender Siarhei Housha to conduct a search there. He wanted to look for some prohibited literature that was allegedly kept by the activist. Mr. Housha was absent from home at the time. His wife refused to let the policeman in (he had no warrant for the search). Mr. Housha is sure that this visit was connected with the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 10 December more than 20 Human Rights and youth activists were detained in the center of Minsk for handing out printed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the detainees there were Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Aleh Matskevich, Maryna Statkevich Siarhei Sys and Iryna Toustsik. The policemen who detained them were dressed in civvies and refused to introduce themselves, thus ignoring the legal provisions. The detainees were forcibly escorted to Tsentralny district police department of Minsk and detained there for three hours. Having put down the passport data, the police officers released everybody without any statements. The vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, Ales Bialiatski, thusly commented on the detention: ‘We handed out informational leaflets about Human Rights violations in Belarus. Pitifully enough, we did not manage to hold the action the way we planned it. It is a pity that it is impossible to distribute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the country that has signed it.’
On 10 December, during a similar action in Hrodna, the police detained the Human Rights defenders Uladzimir Khilmanovich and Viktar Sazonau, as well as Aleh Kalinkau, Yan Roman and other participants of the action.
3. Fines to civil and political activists
On 24 December the activist of the civil campaign European Belarus, Aleh Ladutska, was fined 175,000 rubles (about $82) for posting stickers with the EU symbols. The fine was imposed by the administrative commission of Savetski district of Minsk with U.Zaleshchuk at the head.
On 29 December the judge of Kletsk district court, Alena Hastseyeva, fined the regional coordinator of the For Freedom movement, Siarhei Panamarou, 1,050,000 rubles. Panamarou was charged with organization of an unauthorized meeting on 7 December. The activist was indignant, as there hadn’t been any meetings in Kletsk that day. ‘The judge has not given to me a copy of the decision. I was warned that she could invent something in this case. Most probably, she will consult the head of the court or the ministry about it,’ Panamarou commented. Earlier RFE/RL informed that on 7 December a meeting of Kletsk dwellers with Anton Astapovich, the head of the voluntary society for protection of the monuments of history and culture, was to have taken place. However, officers of the culture department of Kletsk district executive committee and the local policemen did not let the people in the Palace of Culture. Later Siarhei Panamarou was accused of having organized an unauthorized action.
4. The right to association
On 5 December the Supreme Court of Belarus started the hearings on the lawsuit of the founders of Horizontal NGO against the Ministry of Justice. The matter is that on 23 October the ministry refused to register the NGO because of alleged violation of the order of holding its constituent assembly and non-presentation of the list of founders. The plaintiffs dismissed these statements of the Ministry of Justice as groundless.
On 9 December the Supreme Court of Belarus ordered the graphologic expertise of the documents that had been submitted to the Ministry for registration of the NGO. The petition for the expertise was filed by the Ministry of Justice. According to the consultant of the department of NGOs, Alexander Kharyton, some of the founders’ signatures in these documents differed from their signatures in other documents. This was already the second attempt to appeal against the registration denial. The organization founders stated they would to make the third attempt to obtain the state registration in the case the court again takes the side of the Ministry of Justice.
On the eve of the New Year and Christmas the Belarusian republican voluntary society for protection of the monuments of history and culture lost its office in Trayetskaye Suburb in the center of Minsk. The organization activists hoped that the organization would manage to keep its office and, correspondingly, its legal address. According to the head of the society, Anton Astapovich, the rent commission of Minsk city executive commission and the unitary enterprise Minskaya Spadchyna refused to prolong the rent agreement for the organization in May 2008, but the voluntary society continued occupying the office till the end of the year without a rent agreement. According to Mr. Astapovich, the building where the office was situated, belongs to the voluntary society, as in 2004 it was unlawfully nationalized by the Economic Court. ‘I think that the reason for such attitude of the authorities is in the activities of the Society: we are very active in raising the issues connected with violations of the rules of protection of historical and cultural heritage, especially in Minsk, where such violations are massive,’ Astapovich commented.
On 23 December at the press-conference in Minsk the head of the organizational committee of the Party of Freedom and Progress, Uladzimir Navasiad, stated the intention of the party to obtain the official registration at the Ministry of Justice. ‘In April 2009 we intend to hold our fourth constituent assembly’, he said.
5. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
In the beginning of December the democratic activist, Kastus Zhukouski, received a letter about the inadmissibility of cooperation with the non-state TV channel BelSat from Vetka district prosecutor’s office. According to Mr. Zhukouski, it is stated in the letter that the prosecutor’s office conducted a check-up on application of the head of Vetka district soviet of deputies Yauhen Chvankou and Zhukouski’s cooperation with BelSat was established. That’s why in the case of repeated cooperation with BelSat the activist will be drawn to responsibility. ‘I was running for the parliament at this election constituency and really made some shots with my video camera. I am a citizen of Belarus and according to the Constitution I have the right to pass the collected information to any TV channel, be it the Belarusian TV, CNN or RTR,’ commented Kastus Zhukouski.
On 12 December Iuye district court re-tried the case on ‘extremist materials’ in an August issue of the unregistered newspaper Svaboda. As said by the defense lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, who represented the newspaper’s interests in court, the lawsuit of the head of Hrodna regional KGB office, Ihar Siarheyenka, was rejected as no extremist articles were found in the newspaper. Bear in mind that on 9 September Iuye district court confessed Svaboda issue #127 for 14-27 August 2008 extremist and ordered to destroy 5 000 copies of the newspaper. The civil case was brought on the lawsuit of the KGB officer Ihar Siarheyenka of 4 September. The reason is that the article War in Georgia seemed suspicious to the KGB office. Then the judge Alexander Sitsko decided that the case should be returned for the second trial.
On 15 December the activists of the United Civil Party, Zmitser Kavalhin and Katsiaryna Shakal, were detained in the building of Leninski district executive committee of Minsk for distributing the registered independent newspaper Novy Chas. The detention took place on the initiative of the executive officer Uladzimir Litsetski. The democratic activist Ivan Kruk, an initiator of the civil campaign against the construction of a nuclear power station in Astravets district, was detained in Astravets district executive committee (Hrodna regional) for distribution of Novy Chas as well. The committee’s officers drew up an act about ‘illegal distribution’ of the newspaper and threatened that this document would be directed to the district prosecutor’s office for a check-up of Kruk’s activities.
On 16 December the police detained the youth activist Ales Krutkin and escorted him to the police station. There they asked him what he intended to do with the newspaper Belarus Partyzanskaya, which they found while searching his bag. Mr. Krutkin explained that this newspaper was issued with the assistance of the Congress of democratic trade unions and the editions with the circulation of less than 300 copies did not need to have the state registration. The policemen answered that such statements did not satisfy them and confiscated 18 copies of the newspaper from the activist, allegedly for expertise of the content.
On 18 December a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Dzmitry Karmazin, was summoned to the police for testifying. However, when the journalist came to the police station, policemen took his fingerprints and then asked what he thought about the 4 July blast. They did not let BAJ member Tatsiana Bublikava be present during the questioning as a public representative.
On 24 December it became known that the correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii, Pavel Mitskevich, was fingerprinted as well. He warned that ‘other agencies could deal with him’ if he refused this procedure.
6. The right to peaceful assemblies
On 3 December Leninski district court of Brest found the civil activists Zhana Abramava, Yury Bakur and Ivan Stasiuk guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (‘violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions’). Each of the defendants was fined 70 000 rubles (about $33). Their violation was that they held a picket against the eviction of Zhana Abramava from her apartment. According to the Human Rights defender Raman Kisliak, the democratic activists of Brest stated they would continue struggling for the rights of Zhana Abramava and her family.
On 14 December Clip-marathon was to have taken place in the Aquarium club. However, the club was closed down for ‘repairs’. ‘We had an agreement with the club director, but at the last moment they received a paper from the sanitary station with the demand that the club be urgently closed down,’ said Franak Viachorka, one of the organizers of the event, to BelaPAN.
7. Politically motivated dismissals from work
At the end of December the administration of the Mastoudreu enterprise warned activist of the For Freedom movement, Zmitser Kukhlei, that in a month he would not be needed. Nevertheless, the activist thinks that his rights were violated. Mr. Kukhlei worked at the enterprise as a translator. He is also a deputy of the district soviet of deputies, that’s why according to the law he can be dismissed from work only with the consent of the deputies of the district soviet. The activist said he would appeal against this action of the enterprise administration at court.
The administration of Baranavichy weaving factory did not prolong the labor contract to the activist of the United Civil Party Ryhor Hryk. According to the activist, it is connected to his political activities. In autumn Mr. Hryk ran for the parliament at Baranavichy village election constituency #7. He worked at the weaving mill as a maintenance man for 17 years. He often handed out independent press at the check-point of the factory.
8. Freedom of conscience
In December the Belarusian authorities refused to prolong the residence permit of Zbigniew Grygorcevicz, priest of the Catholic parish of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Barysau. The reasons were not explained. As father Zbigniew told Barysau Elektronny, he was hinted that it was connected with his ‘excessive public activism’. The priest believes that the main reason was organization of the concert of Christian music in September 2008. At first Barysau executive committee authorized the action, but before its beginning the permission was annulled.
On 14 December in Peramozhtsau Avenue in Minsk the police detained Siarhei Lukanin, priest of the New Life Church of the religious association of the Full Evangel Christians. The policemen rudely asked him to leave the territory. Then they twisted his arms and pulled him in the House of Sports, threatening him with imprisonment. Only after the priest managed to take out his certificate and showed it to them, they put down his personal data, apologized and said they were implementing and order and acted in conformity with the law. Mr. Lukanin stated that this time he once again faced with the imperfection of the Belarusian law that contradicts to the Constitution and to the Bible. However, he intends to continue professing the gospel.