Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in March 2009
Celebration of anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic is one of the traditionally important events of March. 25 March 2009 was the first time in the recent years when the appropriate street action went on peacefully, without forced dispersals and detentions. However, one can't say that everything was alright and the right to peaceful assemblies was not violated. On the day of the event the police and security services conducted a number of preventive searches and detentions in the Belarusian capital and regions. In the afternoon the police burst into the apartment of Aleh Ladutska, a Minsk activist of the For Freedom movement, and searched it. They also detained Palina Dziakava, an activist of the For Freedom movement. The apartments rented by the Young Front activists Dzianis Karnou and Valer Matskevich were searched as well. In both cases police referred to telephone calls informing them about fights in the apartments.
On 25 March in the evening, activists of the Young Front Dzianis Karnou and Nasta Palazhanka were seized and forcedly pulled into a car by men in mufti near the metro station Kamennaya Horka. Mobile telephones were taken away from the detainees. Then Karnou and Palazhanka were blindfolded and taken out of the city. Dzianis Karnou was beaten and threatened. The unidentified persons cut his jeans into pieces. In Homel police detained Kastus Zhukouski and Siarhei Tryfanau, activists of the Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front, and accused them of disorderly conduct. The court fined S.Tryfanau, while K.Zhukouski was sentenced to three days of arrest. The Salihorsk police also detained Aliaksandr Tsatsura, an activist of the civil campaign For Free Development of Business, on the way to Minsk. Valer Aliaksandrau, Ihar Bazarau and Siarhei Kavalenka, activists of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, were fined by court for coming with a white-red-white flag to Svabody square in Vitsebsk. At the railway station in Minsk police detained Russian citizens, representatives of the youth organization Oborona Oleg Kozlovskii, Aleksandr Savelyev and Maksim Tarlykov and deported them to Russia.
Preparation to the 25 March action started in advance. An application for sanctioning the action was submitted to the Minsk city executive committee on 2 February. The event was organized by Liavon Barshcheuski, Chairperson of the BPF Party, and his deputies, Viktar Ivashkevich, Vintsuk Viachorka and Aliaksei Yanukevich. As said by Mr. Barshcheuski, this year the action had an unprecedented international aspect, being held during an official dialogue between the official Minsk and the European Union.
The anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic was celebrated not only in our country, but also abroad. On 22 March a festive action took place near the UN headquarters in New-York. The Belarusian Youth Movement of America gathered together the young Belarusians from New-York, New-Jersey and Washington under the slogans of defense of the country's independence. At 1 p.m. solemn opening of the exhibition 'Art against dictatorship' took place at the Belarusian museum in New-York. Earlier this exhibition was exposed at the Estonian Parliament and the headquarters of German Marshall Fund in Washington.
On 24 March a press-conference of the international human rights organization Amnesty International and presentation of the report Ending Executions in Europe: Towards abolition of the death penalty in Belarus took place in Minsk. At present Belarus remains the only country in Europe and on the post-Soviet space (after the abolition of the death penalty by Uzbekistan since 1 January 2008) where death verdicts are issued are executions are performed. In January 2009 the campaign Human Rights Activists against Death Penalty was launched in Belarus with the aim to abolish the death penalty in Belarus and thus increase the respect to the common European values. An appropriate petition was prepared by representatives of the country's human rights community. In order to receive feedback from the public discussion of this issue, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Human Rights Center Viasna, the Belarusian PEN-center, the Union of Belarusian Writers and the Belarusian Association of Journalists addressed all those who were eager to express their opinion, calling them to take part in the contest of creative works dedicated to the death penalty.
The EU foreign ministers agreed to extend for nine months the suspension of the travel ban to the Belarusian officials. At the same time, they decided to extend these sanctions for 12 months. According to Karl Schwarzenberg, foreign minister of Czech that presided the EU at the time, this decision resulted from a complicated situation in Belarus. 'The decision to extend the sanctions together with the suspension of the visa restrictions reflects the complex situation in Belarus that could be observed during the latest weeks. Of course, we are concerned with the latest cases of human rights violations,' said the Minister.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 3 March, the figurant of the 'Process of 14', Young Front activist Artsiom Dubski was given official charges under Article 415 of the Criminal Code for 'evasion from serving personal restraint). As said by lawyer Valiantsin Stefanovich, it was possible that in such a way the law machinery continued persecuting young activists on allegedly legal grounds (for violation of the regime of the penalty).
On 9 March, another figurant of the 'Process of 14', the leader of the Young Democrats Mikhail Pashkevich, was also issued an official warning for violating the regime of serving personal restraint after coming home 20 minutes late because of a traffic jam. Three warnings can result in bringing a criminal case under Article 415 of the Criminal Code for 'evasion from serving personal restraint).
On 24 March the figurant of the 'Process of 14' Aliaksandr Barazenka alleged having been beaten by police. On 26 March he was summoned to Natallia Nikitsenka, Chairperson of the criminal-executive inspection of the Frunzenski district police department in Minsk who gave him a second warning for violating the regime of personal restraint. Officers of the criminal-executive inspection demanded that A.Barazenka composed an application concerning his beating by police. He also lodged with the procuracy a complaint about the incident. Bear in mind that Mr. Barazenka became the last person sentenced to personal restraint for participation in a peaceful action of protest held by the Belarusian entrepreneurs, as he was studying on the Kalinouski educational program in Poland during the trial and was tried after all other figurants of 'Process of 14'. On 9 December Natallia Vaitsiakhovich, Judge of the Tsentralny district court in Minsk, sentenced him to one year of personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary institution.
On 31 March Vitsebsk human rights activist Leanid Svetsik, a founder of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna, received official charges under Articles 131 and 367, part 2 of the Criminal Code for 'incitement of national and rational enmity' and 'defamation of the President of Belarus'. The preliminary investigation was conducted by the Vitsebsk oblast KGB department. Bear in mind that at first the human rights activist was suspected under Article 131, but later the court proceedings were suspended. In March the investigation was resumed, as a result of which L.Svetsik was made to give a written undertaking not to leave the city.
2. Harassment of civil and political activists. Activities of security services
On 9 March Judge Aksana Sarakhman fined Ryhor Hryk, a Baranavichy democratic activist, for allegedly organizing and holding on 12 January a spontaneous rally of entrepreneurs that took place. In the beginning of the trial the judge dismissed the petition for admitting to the trial the defendant's representative, Karnei Piatrovich. She also didn't let Mr. Hryk study the materials of his case. During the hearings it was also found that the police officers had committed a number of process violations.
On 11-12 March in Astravets, police examined the apartments of Ivan Kruk and Mikola Ulasevich, members of the organizing committee of the Astravets nuclear power station is a crime campaign. The action was sanctioned by the prosecutor. The reason was the information of Chairperson of the district KGB department, Shmurei, that on 4 March the activists had distributed informational editions in the village of Alkhouka in Astravets district. As said by Mr. Kruk, the 'examinations' were connected to the edition of the small-circulation newspaper Astravetski vesnik featuring materials arguing against construction of a nuclear power station in Astravets.
The main department of internal affairs of the Minsk city executive committee answered the complaint against unlawful actions of the local police lodged by young activist Valer Matskevich with the Frunzenski district procuracy in Minsk. The activist asked the procuracy to conduct a check-up on the unlawful search conducted on the eve of the St.Valentine's Day action in the apartment rented by Young Front activists including him, Mikola Dzemidzenka and Vadzim Khaniauka. During the search KGB officers confiscated without any warrant different personal belongings, including computer equipment, information materials and money. According to information of the press-service of Young Front, Chairperson of the main police department of the Minsk city executive committee, Haidukevich, stated in his answer that the application was considered and no violations were found in the actions of the Frunzenski district police department.
On 14 March participants of the February flash-mob held in Homel to mark the International Mother Langauge Day, learned that they had been tried in absentia for violating the rules of holding mass actions. Zmitser Kutasau and Yauhen Yakavenka were informed about it via mail. As said to journalists by Ya.Yakavenka, the court ruling runs that the trial took place on 4 March. The activist was quite surprised to be informed about it ten days after the trial. He thinks that it was done to deprive him of the opportunity to appeal against the court verdict. The Tsentralny district court in Homel fined Z.Kutasau 1 050 000 rubles (about $371) and Ya.Yakavenka – 700 000 rubles (about $247). Five other participants of the flash-mob (including two journalists) stood trial prior to Kutasau and Yakavenka.
On 17 March the the Pershamaiski district procuracy in Minsk answered the complaint against unlawful actions of police during the detention and arrest of Young Front activist Zmitser Khvedaruk on the eve of politically motivated drafting into the army. On 12 May 2008 the Tsentralny district court in Minsk sentenced the activist to ten days of arrest under Article 13.6 of the Process-executive Code of Administrative Offences. The legal term for finding Khvedaruk and making him serve the penalty was three months. However, in violation of the law, he was detained eight months after the court verdict. In the official answer of A.Mliava, Prosecutor of the Pershamaiski district, it is stated: 'In the mentioned circumstances there weren't found any significant violations by officers of the Pershamaiski district police department of the legal requirements regulating the administrative process '. At the same time, 'in connection with the violations of Article 13.6 of the Process-executive Code of Administrative Offences the procuracy submitted to the chairperson of the Pershamaiski district police department an information note for taking the appropriate measures on prevention of such violations in future'. Thus, from the answer of the procuracy it follows that the violations have occurred, but are insignificant.
On 23 March the Minsk inter-garrison military court refused to find unlawful the actions of military officers and medics during the drafting into the army of Franak Viachorka, Chairperson of the BPF Youth. On 16 January Viachorka was forcedly guarded to the draft board from the military hospital where he was under medical examination. At first the court suspended the case. However, on 30 January policemen directed by persons in mufti seized Mr. Viachorka. They took him to the draft board and then – to a military unit in Baranavichy. Although the forensic expertise registered the beating of F.Viachorka following his hospitalization because of a high blood pressure several days after the incident, the court turned down his lawsuit. Meanwhile, during the trial Military Commissioner Aleh Zahurski confirmed that the people who had detained Viachorka worked in the army. However, he stated that they did not beat him and acted in line with the legislation.
On 27 March the court punished some Vitsebsk democratic activists for participation in the Freedom Day action: Siarhei Kavalenka, member of the Conservative Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front, was fined 700 00 rubles and Ihar Bazarau and Valer Aliaksandrau – 70 000 rubles (about $25) each. The activists just came to Svabody Square with white-red-white flags. Alena Kadzilava, Judge of the Kastrychnitski district court, found them guilty in holding an unsanctioned rally. S.Kavalenka had already received such punishments, while for V.Aliaksandrau and I.Bazarau it was the first one.
3. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 15 March, the Constitution Day, members of the BPF Youth held an action in Vitsebsk that ended with detention of young activist Kastus Ivanou. As said by a member of the organization Siarzhuk Karpovich, Ivanou wanted to draw public attention to the attitude to constitutional rights in Belarus. He was seized by police while handing out copies of the Constitution, and was guarded to the Chyhunachny district police department in Vitsebsk. There the police officers drew up a report on confiscation of the constitutions. In 1.5 hours the detainee was released.
4. Freedom of association
On 11 March the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the lawsuit of the social-patriotic civil association (SPCA) Horizontal against the registration denial issued by the Ministry of Justice. Valer Ukhnaliou, a Horizontal founder, stated that the organization activists intended to continue the attempts to register with the state and would hold the third constituent assembly of the organization for it.
On 11 March, information About the registration denial to the civil human rights association 'Nasha Viasna' appeared at the official web-site of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus. On 19 March a complaint against the non-registration was lodged with the Supreme Court. On 12 March the Helsinki Committees of Sweden, Norway, Moscow and Belarus adopted a joint address to the Belarusian authorities calling to review the decision on the registration of Nasha Viasna. According to the Helsinki Committees, the reasons provided by the Ministry of Justice for non-registering the NGO are inconsistent. The address also runs that 'the establishment of free conditions for legitimate activities of human rights groups would demonstrate that Belarus is ready to create space for civil society engagement and to undertake concrete steps towards improving respect for human rights.'
On 29 March the third constituent assembly of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna took place at the headquarters of the BPF Party in Minsk. The assembly was attended by human rights defenders, lawyers and civil activists. 82 representatives from all regions of Belarus became co-founders of the human rights organization. As stated by Ales Bialiatski, Elected Chairperson of Nasha Viasna, the third attempt to register with the state would be the last one.
On 23 March the College Board on Civil Affairs of the Minsk city court turned down Viktar Karneyenka's lawsuit against the refusal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to re-register the Civil Initiatives NGO. The Minsk city court agreed with the ruling of the Leninski district court in Minsk according to which former Chairperson of Civil Initiatives Viktar Karneyenka cannot represent the interests of the organization, because he is not the chairperson of the organization after its dissolution in 2003. By the way, it is the Ministry of Foreign affairs that is responsible for implementation of international laws on the territory of Belarus. Three years ago the UN Human Rights Committee proposed the Belarusian authorities to re-register the NGO that had been liquidated six years ago, and pay to its members a compensation for dissolution of the organization. Thus, the Minsk city court does not see any need in implementing the UN decisions.
5. Freedom of information
On 17 March Natallia Kozel, Judge of the Leninski district court in Hrodna, fined Andrei Pachobut , an activist of the unrecognized by the Belarusian authorities Union of Poles in Belarus and correspondent with Gazeta Wyborcza, 525 000 rubles (about $185) for participation in an unauthorized action on 17 January. This day several hundreds of the UPB Members gathered near the Polish House, where a sitting of the pro-governmental Union of Poles was taking place. However, police prevented them from entering the building. In 2.5 months reports about administrative offences were drawn up against three activists of the underground Union of Poles – Ihar Bantsar, Andrei Pachobut and Mechyslau Yaskevich.
6. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
On 25 March Maryiana Hruzdzilovich was suddenly dismissed from the position of a teacher at a branch of the British educational center SOL Minsk. The reason was a fabricated letter, allegedly sent by a group of parents, accusing her of spreading oppositional propaganda among the pupils. By the way, it was impossible to collect parents' signatures under the letter, as the classes at which the teacher reacted to a disgraceful saying of a pupil about participants of 25 March action, ended at 9 p.m., and the following morning the administration of the educational center received the letter concerning this incident. Maryiana also made telephone calls to the parents to ensure that they had received no telephone calls and there were no talks about complaining against her. Only later did the teacher found, that the father of the 'insulted' pupil was a police colonel.
Meanwhile, after dissemination of information about her dismissal, on 31 March the teacher Maryiana Hruzdzilovich was rehabilitated at work. When he came to school to take away her service record, the main accountant of the educational center familiarized her with a ruling reversing her dismissal. The woman knew nothing about the reasons for such decision of the administration of the educational establishment.
At the end of March Young Front activist Ivan Shyla was denied the opportunity to take his last school exam and get the certificate of secondary education. His father, Uladzimir Shyla, was informed about it in the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Ivan Shyla had been expelled from school and drafted into the army right before the last exam. Earlier the administration of the military unit where he was serving promised to give him a leave on 1-12 June so that he could take the exam. However, then representatives of the general headquarters stated that 'according to the legislation it is impossible to give the soldier of statutory service, private Ivan Shyla, an opportunity to take the exams for the course of the secondary education on 1-12 June'. 'The Young Front activist served in the Lepel district of the Vitsebsk oblast, in anti-aircraft artillery unit 29. After taking the oath I.Shyla was taken to hospital: he was ill with quinsy, which resulted in a complication – otitis.