Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2009
The universal financial crisis did not pass Belarus. The National Bank set a new currency exchange rate, as a result of which the Belarusian ruble was at once devalued by 20%, which inflicted loss to ordinary citizens and the importers who bought goods for currency.
The most celebrated human rights violations in January were the forced detentions of young activists Zmitser Khvedaruk, Ivan Shyla and Franak Viachorka, with subsequent drafting into the army. In its public statement the Human Rights Center Viasna qualified it as a revival of the practice of using military service to neutralize civil and political activists. The unregistered youth organization Young Front held actions of protest against these repressive measures. In its public address to the Ministry of Defense, the organization demanded that politically motivated persecution of youth be stopped and the drafting be conducted objectively and in line with Belarusian legislation.
In January, a number of working groups and advisory councils were established at various state organs of Belarus. Representatives of public circles were actively invited to these institutions. On 31 January 2008, Siarhei Sidorski, Head of the Government, signed the order for the establishing an inter-agency working group for planning the development of the country's marketing. The working group comprised 14 people, two of whom did not represent any state agencies: Deputy Chairperson of the United Civil Party Yaraslau Ramanchuk and Director of the Novak laboratory for axiometric research, Chairperson of the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies Andrei Vardamatski.
Yaraslau Ramanchuk decided to leave the working group a month after its establishment. 'My work in this institution again proves that the main problem of the Belarusian administrative economy is the actual absence of government. Instead of it, there is chaos, inertia and constant squabble. The people cannot reach an agreement even if they want to. That's why there is no use speaking of any changes in the country unless the principles of governing change,' commented Mr. Ramanchuk.
On 16 January, Zhana Litvina, Chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists; Iosif Siaredzich, chief editor of the Narodnaya Volia newspaper; and Alena Mironava, chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii; received an official proposal to join the public coordinative council in the sphere of mass information, established by the Soviet of Ministers.
On 26 January it became known that a public-consultative council was being established at the Presidential Administration. According to Natallia Piatkevich, the first Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, 'the council is established for discussing the daily issues of civil and political development of the Belarusian society'. The authorities intended to invite to the council some representatives of public circles.
On 14 January a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted a Resolution on Belarus by 559 votes vs. 15. According to this document, for a considerable improvement of relations with the European Union Belarus should remain a country without political prisoners, the government should guarantee the freedom of media, continue the cooperation with the OSCE on reforming the election legislation, improve the conditions for activities of NGOs and guarantee freedom of assemblies and political associations.
1. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 10 January the authorities disrupted the assembly at St. Symon and Alena Church in Minsk of the parents whose children studied in Poland on the Kalinouski educational program, organized for the people who had been expelled from the Belarusian high schools because of their political activities. More than 60 people came to the assembly. Some of them arrived from other towns and cities of Belarus. Singer Zmitser Vaitsiushkevich and poet Henadz Buraukin also intended to take part in the event. However, before the beginning of the assembly representative of the Minsk city executive committee (according to some other information – from the State Committee on Religions) Rumiantsava phoned to the church and banned the event without any explanations.
The Minsk city executive committee did not grant the petition for holding an anti-alcoholic rally on 10 January lodged by residents of the Kurasoushchyna suburb in Minsk. The officials stated that the chosen action site failed to meet the legal requirements, and the procession on the chosen route would block the traffic. As said by Leanid Skarabahaty, an initiator of the action, the organizers of the event were not going to give up and would seek legal ways for campaigning against the people's alcoholization.
At the end of January, the International Education Center (IBB) refused to accommodate the constituent assembly of the Belarusian Christian Party, scheduled for 28 February. IBB representatives told the applicants that the application was correct and the hall of the education center would be free on 28 February, but the founders of the center decided not to lend it for the event (the IBB was established by the Minsk city executive committee and German partners).
Uladzimir Katsora, Chairperson of the organizing committee of the For Freedom movement in Homel oblast, received from the UN Human Rights Committee a letter confirming that his complaint was accepted for consideration. The complaint concerned an electoral meeting with Aliaksandr Milinkevich organized by Mr. Katsora in February 2008. Uladzimir produced and distributed leaflets with invitations to the event, which was deemed as a violation of the law On mass events, as a result of which the activist was sentenced to seven days of arrest. Trying to get justice, Uladzimir Katsora passed all court instances in Belarus and then lodged a complaint with the UN. By the way, during the last two years U.Katsora has been five times arrested because of his political activities. He spent a total of 40 days in jail, 17 of them for alleged violations of the Law On mass events.
2. Activities of security services
On 19 January, two KGB officers tried to recruit Pavel Liashkovich, a first year student of the faculty of informational technologies of Belarusian State Academy of Radio-electronics. At the dean's office two people in mufti asked the student about his trips to Poland and the Ukraine. They also asked whether he was a member of any oppositional organizations, offered to write an application for cooperating with the KGB and promised financial support. Pavel Liashkovich had to sign the papers. He was also ordered to write an application for joining the Young Front and asked not to give publicity to the content of their 'discussion'. Such cases still take place throughout the country. Among others, Aleh Pronski, a student of Hrodna State Agrarian University, and Illia Kavalei, a student of Salihorsk State Economical Technical College, were 'invited' for 'prophylactic talks'.
Illia Kavalei applied to the Salihorsk executive committee for authorization of a picket against the economic defenselessness of the population from the policy of the authorities. Two days later the administration of the college held a 'prophylactic talk' with the activist, at which he was warned about possible expulsion. The college administration also threatened that some drugs could be 'occasionally' found in Kavalei's pocket or something else could happen to him.
KGB also pressurized members of the initiative opposing construction of a nuclear power station in Astravets district. A man in mufti came to Ivan Zhyletski of Astravets and asked why he was against the nuclear power plant. Most members of the initiative group are pensioners.
3. Freedom of association
The organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party started holding assemblies for registration of the party. More than 100 residents of Vitsebsk, Polatsk, Chashniki and Haradok agreed to become the BCD founders. For official registration, the law requires a party to have more than one thousand of founders. According to the BCD press-service, KGB officers phoned to potential founders of the party and threatened them with troubles for participation in its registration.
On 26 January registration documents of the Nasha Viasna NGO were passed to the Ministry of Justice. The organization was founded by human rights activists, journalists and public activists from all parts of Belarus, many of whom used to be members of the Human Rights Center Viasna liquidated by the Supreme Court in 2003 on order of the Ministry of Justice. In 2007 the human rights activists tried to legalize their activities, but the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court refused to restore the legal status to HRC Viasna despite an appropriate ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee deeming the dissolution of the Center by the Belarusian authorities of the right to association. In this ruling the Committee also proposed the authorities to improve the situation, a recommendation that was ignored.
4. Freedom of information
The Chamber of Representatives once again denied accreditation to Maryna Koktysh, a journalist with the officially registered newspaper Narodnaya Volia. On 5 January the editorial office received an appropriate letter dated 31 December from Deputy Chairperson of the secretariat of the Chamber of Representatives, Skarynin, saying that the application for accreditation had been passed to the 'appropriate services' who had decided to deny the journalist in access to 'the complex of buildings in Savetskaya Street, 11' (the address of the House of the Parliament).
On 15 January the Minsk oblast Economic Court sentenced the Borisovskiye Novosti newspaper to pay a fine of 48 million rubles (more than $17 000). As stated by Anatol Bukas, founder of the Bukas Media Center firm and chief editor of the newspaper, this measure put his company in the danger of bankruptcy, as a result of which 22 people could lose their jobs. The matter is that Bukas Media Center rented a stall at the city market, on a written agreement with the market administration. According to Ruling 1221 of the Soviet of Ministers, the rent of a stall does not need to be put in the license. The company earned 48 million Belarusian rubles selling newspapers there. The tax inspection took the opinion that Bukas Media Center had a market object, not a stall at the market, and sentenced it to a fine amounting to the year's income. Besides, the Belarusian House of Press annulled the agreement concluded on 8 January for printing of the newspaper. Bear in mind that since 1996 the newspaper Borisovskiye Novosti had been denied printing by the printing house in Barysau and was printed in Maladzechna, Orsha and in two printing houses in Minsk. Only one edition was published in the Belarusian House of Press.
The ideological department of the Minsk city executive committee banned the advertisement in the subway of the officially registered newspaper Nasha Niva. The editorial board of the newspaper addressed the advertising agency of the subway concerning the advertisement as soon as Nasha Niva was returned to the state newsstands and the subscription catalog. Workers of the advertising agency said they had nothing against it, but they needed an agreement of the ideological department of the Minsk city executive committee. Almost a month later Eduard Tamilchyk, Chairperson of the mass events department, stated that there was no space for the advertisement of Nasha Niva in January and advised the applicants to apply again in February. However, the information about absence of free space was disproved by the advertising agency.
5. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 12 January officers of the Salihorsk district police department detained Mikalai Pakhabau, an activist of the independent trade union of radio-electronic industry returning to Salihorsk from Minsk. They searched his car and found some CDs, the information bulletin Za Voliu and leaflets with an address of the trade union to the Salihorsk administration urging to build a new polyclinic. The activist was guarded to the district police department to be questioned by an investigator.
On 13 January Tatsiana Pauliuchuk, Judge of the Tsentralny district court in Minsk, found young activist Marta Maiseyenka guilty under Article 17.1 (disorderly conduct) for hanging the national white-red-white flag on the New Year tree in the center of Minsk, and fined her 175 000 rubles (about $70). Police detained the girl and accused her of using obscene language. Marta was kept at the Tsentralny district police department during the night after the detention.
6. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 13 January the Minsk city court considered Aliaksandr Barazenka's cassation complaint against the verdict issued to him on 9 December 2008 by the Tsentralny district court in Minsk for participation in a peaceful action of protest (Judge Natallia Vaitsiakhovich had sentenced him to a year of personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary institution). Predictably enough, the Minsk city court left the verdict in force.
Siarzhuk Huminski, an activist of the Young Front, was declared wanted by the local draft board for ostensible evasion from army service. The draft board also intended to pass his documents to the procuracy for instigating criminal proceedings. Bear in mind that as a result of political persecution Mr. Huminski had to go abroad for continuing his studies. The previous year the draft board already tried to make the procuracy bring a criminal case, but the latter refused to do it.
Three-year-old boy and girl, adopted two years ago by the mother of Young Front activist Artsiom Dubski, were taken away from her and returned to an orphanage. Each year the woman had to prolong the contract for their upbringing. This year the authorities refused to prolong the contract, as Artsiom Dubski was a 'political criminal' and participated in 'anti-state activities'. Bear in mind that Artsiom Dubski, one of the accused in the 'process of 14' for participation in the action of entrepreneurs of 10 January 2008, was sentenced to two years of personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary institution. In October a criminal case under Article 415 ('evasion from serving the punishment') was brought against Artsiom. As a result he asked for political asylum in the Ukraine where he was living at the time.
7. Freedom of conscience
On 13 January the Supreme Economic Court rejected the lawsuit of the Novaye Zhyttsio Church against the Minsk city executive committee. The court verdict prescribed the believers to leave the building where they used to serve masses. Bear in mind that in 2002 the church bought a former cow-shed and converted it into a temple at its own expense. In 2005 the authorities banned serving any masses there. At first the authorities ordered the Protestants to leave the building on 9 October 2006. Instead, the latter ones went on a 23-day hunger-strike of protest, as a result of which the authorities had to postpone their eviction from the building.
8. Prisoners' rights
The USA continued insisting on the release from prison of the American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser because of the hard state of his health. The Patton Boggs law firm lodged an urgent complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture demanding an investigation into the torture and ill-treatment of Emanuel Zeltser.
As the press service of the firm reports, the complaint alleged that having detained Zeltser on 12 March 2008, Belarus violated its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Zeltser 'has faced physical beatings, inhuman and unsanitary treatment... The Belarusian authorities have continuously withheld physician-prescribed medications. An independent American doctor, who was allowed to examine E.Zeltser at prison #15 in Mahiliou on 6 January, thinks that the prisoner can hardly survive till the end of his prison term without the necessary medicines.' The lawyers urged the UN Special Rapporteur to 'make the Belarusian authorities understand that such actions are inadmissible and must be banned'.