Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2009
Few people gathered for the traditional action Chernobyl Way at the end of April. 'The past rally can be called an action of recession', commented Liavon Barshcheuski, Chairperson of the BPF Party. Meanwhile, persecution of democratic activists is going on. Human rights defenders are of the opinion that only point changes have taken place. The Minsk city executive committee banned holding of the action on the route that was proposed by its organizers. Democratic activists were detained in different regions of the country.
In particular, on 26 April in Vitsebsk, activists of the civil campaign European Belarus, members of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party and the For Freedom movement were detained by police at the very beginning of their action Ales Halavan, Kastus Ivanou, Aliaksei Pialevich, Iryna Piatrova and Valer Ramanenka were guarded to the police station. Member of the Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front Siarhei Kavalenka and human rights defender Valer Misnikau were also taken there as 'suspicious persons'. On 25 April Yauhen Skrabets, an activist of the European Belarus, was detained in Lida to prevent him coming to Minsk. In Biaroza, police detained journalist and human rights activist Tamara Shchapiotkina during the traditional commemorative action Candle of Memory.
On 16 April, riot police dispersed an action of solidarity with repressed people and the families of the missing public and political activists. More than 50 people stood on Kastrychnitskaya Square for about 10 minutes, holding in their hands portraits of the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Uladzimir Asipenka, Mikalai Autukhovich and Yury Liavonau who have been kept in custody since 8 February. Police warned the people over loudspeakers that the rally was unsanctioned and called on the present people to disperse. Then the policemen pressed the action participants out to Internatsyianalnaya Street with the use of physical violence. No one was detained.
The most serious violations in April concerned the right to association. After the civil human rights-educational association For Freedom was registered on the fourth attempt, some other NGOs also submitted the necessary documents to the Ministry of Justice hoping to register with the state. However, the authorities kept to their earlier practice of refusing to register NGOs for wire-drawn or insufficient reasons. In particular, the Supreme Court did not grant the complaint of the founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it. The Assembly of pro-Democratic NGOs was denied registration as well. The situation of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party was quite strange: at first the Ministry of Justice also refused to register it, but then suspended its own decision for an unknown period of time.
On 23 April Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, stated at the press-conference in Brussels that Belarus could take part only in multilateral projects within the frames of the new policy of the European Union Eastern Partnership, as soon as there was no bilateral part. As said by her, the EU interacted with the Belarusian NGOs and mass media. The European Commission has started consultations with the Belarusian authorities in such spheres as transport, energy and climatic change. The European Commissioner stated that the proposal for Belarus about full membership in the European Neighborhood Policy remained in force, but certain conditions needed to be implemented for it. 'All of you know about our five recommendations to Belarus,' she pointed. Bear in mind that in October 2008 the EU singled out five out of 12 recommendations as the basis for normalization of relations with Belarus: reform of the electoral legislation, ensuring of freedom of associations, creation of conditions for activities of NGOs, freedom of press and the abolition of restrictions of personal liberties.
1. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 4 April Young Front activist Andrei Veramyiuk was detained by police in Kobryn for hanging out a white-red-white flag on a building in the center of the town, with assistance of a friend of his. The detainee was kept at the police station for 1.5 hours and was released without getting any charges. The white-red-white flag was removed by firemen in several hours.
On 16 April in Brest, police detained Natallia Hahaliuk, Katsiaryna Ishchyk, Ilaryion Kasianchuk, Uladzimir Sheleh and Yauhen Skrabets, participants of the Day of Solidarity who were standing in the center of the city with the banner 'Freedom to political prisoners' and a flag of the European Belarus. The detainees were guarded to the police station and then – to a detention facility where they spent the night. In the morning Larysa Nazarenka, Judge of the Leninski district court in Brest, found them guilty under Article 23.34, part 1 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of holding mass actions) and fined each of them 70 000 rubles (about $25).
On 17 April Natallia Petukh, Judge of the Pershamaiski district court in Minsk, turned down the complaint of the Young Front activist Zmitser Khvedaruk against the unlawful actions of military officers during the drafting. The young activist was guarded to court from hospital by an officer. At the trial the representative of the medical commission Aliaksandr Valoshyn did not deny that Mr. Khvedaruk was ill, but insisted that with such bunch of diseases he could serve in the army – with limited physical exercise. Z.Khvedaruk said that he had spent almost all of the last 2.5 months in medical institutions. 'At present I am getting medical treatment at the medical company in Pechy. In fact, during the whole time of my army service I haven't implemented my functional duties even once – I have never been in a duty detail or on the guard. I haven't done anything useful except for peeling potatoes.'
On 23 April the Leninski district court in Brest found Mikhail Iliin, a regional activist of the Young Front, guilty under Article 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and sentenced him to ten days of jail. 'At the trial M.Iliin did not deny having put a toilet sink and four rolls of toilet paper to the monument of Lenin on 22 April at 11.45 a.m.', said the human rights defender Raman Kisliak. The youngster said that in such a way he expressed his attitude to Communism and the still existent cult of Lenin.
On 23 April Kunitskaya, Judge of the Brest oblast court, dismissed the cassation complaint of the Baranavichy civil activist Ryhor Hryk against the verdict of the Baranavichy and Baranavichy oblast court by which he had been fined under Article 23.34, part 2 of the Administrative Code for having allegedly organized a rally of entrepreneurs in January. However, it was proved that Mr. Hryk hadn't organized the rally and the violation report against him was drawn up in his absence.
The Savetski distict procuracy in Minsk gave a negative reply to the joint application of Young Front activists Zmitser Dashkevich, Mikola Dzemidzenka, Vadzim Khaniauka and Pavel Kuryianovich about bringing a criminal case on allegations of beating of participants of the procession dedicated to St. Valentine's Day, referring to Article 29, part 1, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code – 'because of absence of socially dangerous action'.
2. Freedom of association
On 9 April the administration of the Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs received from the Ministry of Justice a letter about registration denial. The ministry explained its decision not to register the organization by alleging that some violations were made during its establishment. In particular, it was stated that the constituent agreement was invalid because the heads of the member organizations had signed it without agreement of the governing organs of these public associations. The ministry also took the opinion that the organization name failed to reflect the subject of activities of its members and thus did not correspond to the legal requirements. The Assembly representatives consider the registration denial politically motivated. 'The constituent agreement about the establishment of the Assembly was signed by the heads of the member organizations after the assemblies of the organizations had empowered them to do it', emphasized the lawyer Yury Chavusau. 'The legal rules were observed, which is confirmed by the documents'. The Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs was founded by seven civil associations including the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Center Supolnasts, the BPF Adradzhenne, the Center for Human Rights and three more organizations based in Verkhniadzvinsk, Vitsebsk and Mahiliou.
On 30 April Ales Bialiatski, Aleh Hulak and Siarhei Matskevich, members of the Working Group on the establishment of the Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs, filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court, asking to find unlawful the registration denial.
Siarhei Matskevich, Chairperson of the Working Group of the Assembly, reminded that it was the repeated refusal to register the Assembly: the first registration attempt was made in 2002 and the Ministry of Justice answered 1.5 years after receiving the registration documents. At present the complaint against the non-registration of the Assembly in 2002 is at the UN Human Rights Committee.
On 15 April the administration of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party also received registration denial. The alleged reason is the non-compliance of the documents to the results of the questioning of its founders by the Ministry of Justice. The constituent assembly of the party was held at the end of February. As soon as the registration documents were submitted to the Ministry of Justice, representatives of ideological departments, KGB and police officers started phoning to the founders. Some of the people were threatened with dismissal from work unless they refused from their signatures. It is quite interesting that the check-up of the documents of the BCD founders had been conducted by Aleh Slizheuski, Deputy Minister of Justice who signed the registration denial.
However, on 16 April a representative of the Ministry of Justice phoned to BCD founder Aliaksei Shein and said that the decision on non-registration of the party was suspended, allegedly in connection with a number of addresses of the BCD founders and receiving some information that could influence the decision on the state registration of the party. The official said that final decision would be ostensibly taken after checking the received information.
On 22 April Yuliya Trapynina, Judge of the Leninski district court in Mahiliou, turned down the complaint of the trade union of radio-electronic industry and other branches of national economy against unlawful actions of the Mahiliou city executive committee. The reason for the lawsuit is the refusal of the Mahiliou CEC to register the Mahiliou city organization of the trade union. The officials stated they decided not to register the trade union because its members worked in different branches of the national economy.
3. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 8 April the International foundation for the protection of human rights defenders Front Line addressed the President of Belarus in connection with criminal persecution of human rights defender Leanid Svetsik. Front Line believes that the legal proceedings against Mr. Svetsik are unfounded and related to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work. That's why Front Line urged the authorities to immediately drop the charges against human rights defender Leanid Svetsik; guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Leanid Svetsik; ensure that all human rights defenders in Belarus, carrying out their legitimate work in the defense of human rights, can exercise their right to freedom of expression and association, and are able to operate free of restrictions and reprisals, including judicial harassment.
On 14 April, on the eve of consideration by the parliament of the draft law on amnesty, young activists held an action near the House of the Parliament on Nezalezhnastsi Square, demanding parole to participants of the 'Process of 14'. In about ten minutes the police detained Palina Dziakava, Uladz Ihnatovich, Marta Krylova, Aleh Ladutska, Aliaksei Liaukovich, Katsiaryna Stsepaniuk, Pavel Yukhnevich and Maksim Viniarski. The activists were guarded to the Maskouski district police department. There the police officers put down their personal data and let them go. 'We tried to turn the attention of the Parliament to the fact that participants of the 'Process of 14' could be granted parole if their article was included in the law on amnesty, and the parliament had a means to do it without losing its face,' said the activist of the European Belarus M.Viniarski.
Meanwhile, leader of Young Democrats Mikhail Pashkevich stated that participant of the 'Process of 14' Tatsiana Tsishkevich was declared wanted. He found it from an investigator of the criminal-executive inspection of the Frunzenski district of Minsk. At present Tatsiana studies in Poland.
Aliaksandr Barazenka, a participant of the 'Process of 14', lodged with the procuracy a complaint against unlawful actions of Siarhei Kisel, an officer of the criminal-executive inspection of the Frunzenski district of Minsk. As said by the young activist, at the end of March he had to move from Minsk to Pinsk after being beaten by the police inspector and receiving the second warning for violating the regime of penalty. 'I could not stay in Minsk any longer, because I understood that only one step was left to the third warning, after which I could be imprisoned. In Pinsk there inspector doesn't have such a biased attitude to me as in Minsk. At present I am busy looking for a job,' said A.Barazenka.
4. Prison conditions
On 16 April Mikalai Autukhovich, the Vaukavysk entrepreneur kept in pre-trial prison since 8 February on accusation in arson, declared an indefinite hunger-strike. According to his lawyer Pavel Sapelka, this was the only legal action he could take in prison to protest against the unlawful actions of the investigative organs and absence of prosecutorial supervision of the investigation into his case. M.Autukhovich emphasized that during the two months of imprisonment no investigative actions were conducted with him. The investigators questioned his acquaintances not concerning the arson, but about keeping the arms, preparation of explosions in the Hrodna oblast and destruction of property. Some of the witnesses in the case were psychologically pressurized into giving false testimonies.
5. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 14 April Zmitser Barodka and Maksim Siarheyeu, activists of the civil campaign European Belarus, applied to the Minsk city executive committee for authorization of a picket on 1 May, at which they intended to collect signatures for Belarus' joining the EU. They received a negative answer signed by M. Tsitsiankou, Deputy Chairperson of the Minsk city executive committee. The official stated that the action did not correspond to parts 5 and 6 of Article 5 of the law of the Republic of Belarus On mass actions in the Republic of Belarus. Meanwhile, the fifth part of Article 5 of the law On mass actions was unpublished at that time, which means that it could not come into force. 'The ban of the action shows that the hype by the state media concerning the so-called liberalization and closer relations with Europe was just a farce. The authorities need no movement towards Europe. Freedom of peaceful assemblies, freedom of expression and freedom of associations are still violated in Belarus. We still have political prisoners. Nevertheless, despite all prohibitions, the campaign is going on. Tens thousands of signatures for joining Belarus to Europe have been collected already,' commented Zmitser Barodka.
The 5th Congress of the World Alliance of Belarusians Batskawshchyna was in danger of cancellation. 17 organizations delivered written refusals to lend premises to organizers of the event. The main official reason for the refusals was 'repairs'. In particular, such answers were received from the Culture House of Trade Unions, Minsk cinema, the House of Culture of Minsk Automobile Plant and at the hall of Minsk State Linguistic University. There were alleged fire security problems at the House of Officers. The leaders of Batskawshchyna stated that such 'repairs epidemic' showed the political decision of the authorities to disrupt the congress.
On 30 April Mikalai Silmanovich, Judge of the Baranavichy and Baranavichy district court, turned down the complaint of human rights defender Siarhei Housha, lawyer Karnei Piatrovich and member of the For Freedom movement Viktar Syrytsa who stated that the ruling About the rules of holding mass actions in the city of Baranavichy adopted on 17 January 2006 by the Baranavichy CEC violated the Constitution, the law On mass actions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, they received a short answer to their well-argued application: 'The ruling of Baranavichy city executive committee of 17.01.2006 4 About the rules of holding mass actions in the city of Baranavichy is in line with the law, and your application is considered groundless'.
6. Freedom of information
On 16 April photo correspondent Uladzimir Hrydzin, member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, was taking photos of the Pershamaiski district police department in Minsk after a fire that had happened there. He was almost immediately seized by people in mufti. They twisted his arms, took away the camera and hit several times in stomach with knees. They guarded him to the police station and deleted all photos from the camera. Then the journalist was let go. The offenders ignored his demands to introduce themselves. The BAJ addressed the procuracy In connection with this incident, requiring a check-up and appropriate measures of prosecutorial reaction towards the perpetrators.
On 18 December 2008 Anatol Sanatsenka, Chairperson of the editorial board of the private regional edition Bobruiskii Kuryer, submitted to the Leninski district procuracy in Babruisk a request to give a legal evaluation to actions of the Babruisk executive committee. Mr. Sanatsenka stated that some of the state officials systematically violated freedom of mass media and the rights of the editorial office. He also attached a number of documents witnessing the violations including hampering the distribution of the edition, accreditation denials and limiting access to information. The plaintiff believes that by their actions the state officials grossly violated the law on mass media and Article 198 of the Criminal Code ('creation of obstacles to lawful professional activities of a journalist'). Nevertheless, senior investigator Siarhei Sharamet came to the conclusion that there was no corpus delicti in actions of the local authorities. Besides, on 10 April the editorial board received a letter signed by Nina Sheleh, Director of the Babruisk communications center, informing that the agreement for the sale of the Babruiski Kuryer would be cancelled since 1 May. A.Sanatsenka considers it as a result of his complaint against the local authorities.
According to the BAJ, at present obstacles to distribution of private press are created in many parts of Belarus. The worst situation is observed in Babruisk, Barysau and Baranavichy.
7. Activities of security services
On the eve of the anniversary of Chernobyl accident, on 24 April Viktar Sazonau, a Hrodna democratic and human rights activist, was guarded to the Hrodna oblast KGB department and familiarized with his dossier. KGB officers warned V.Sazonau about the possible consequences in the case of continuation of oppositional activities and made him sign that he was familiarized with Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization or active participation in group actions that grossly violate the civil order).
On 29 April in Hrodna, KGB officers detained member of the BAJ, journalist Ivan Roman, a correspondent with Radio Liberty and Magazyn Polski issued by the underground Union of Poles in Belarus. The journalist was officially warned about inadmissibility of illegal activities. 'I was told that I could write only positive things, and if I give negative information – it will be considered as discredit of the Republic of Belarus in foreign media,' said Ivan Roman. Last year the journalist received from the procuracy a similar warning.
On 23 April unknown people in mufti came to the factory where the activist of the Young Front Anton Rusin worked. They asked him about activities of the organization, its leaders and the march For Freedom! prepared by the Young Front. The activist refused to answer their questions.
8. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
Ales Mekh, a candidate for the parliament at the last elections, received a negative answer from the Supreme Court concerning the unlawful dismissal from work during the electoral campaign. He couldn't find a job in Kobryn and Kobryn district, though he was a good specialist and had two higher educations.