Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in May 2009
In May several mass actions took place, all of them under vigilant police surveillance. In particular, on 7 May an action marking the tenth anniversary of disappearance of opposition politician, former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka was held in the center of Minsk. Scores of civil activists were detained on the eve. Haunting also continued in different parts of Minsk after the action. A total of 30 people were detained. The detainees were pulled into busses where they were insulted and beaten by police. As written by Maksim Serhiyets in his complaint, police officers humiliated and threatened him. They took away his mobile phone and then hit him in stomach with hands and feet and smothered him. These actions were accompanied with four-letter words. One of the policemen seized the activist by the coat and tore it. When Mr. Serhiyets was thrown down on the bus floor, one of the policemen walked on his back. Other detainees also lied down on the floor and were beaten. Then all detainees were guarded to the Tsentralny district police department. In several hours they were let go without being explained the reasons for the detention. No reports were drawn up.
On 7 May police detained activists of the Brest Young Front branch Mikhas Iliin and Kasia and Yulia Pashko who were going to an action in the memory of Yury Zakharanka.
Another action in the memory of Yury Zakharanka was held near the Homel oblast police department. At the end of May reports of administrative charges were brought against its participants – Chairperson of Homel oblast branch of the United Civil Party Vasil Paliakou, human rights activist Anatol Paplauny, regional coordinator of the For Freedom movement Uladzimir Katsora and civil activists Yury Zakharanka and Piatro Kuzniatsou. The day before the action two policemen also came to Katsora's apartment and asked him to sign that he was warned about responsibility for possible violations of the law, but the activist refused to do it.
On 14 May the Young Front held the peaceful march For Independence to protest against the replacement of the state symbols after the 1995 referendum. Preventive detentions were performed in the regions of Belarus on the day of the action. Riot police encircled the action participants on Kastrychnitskaya in Minsk, snatched a banner For Independence and white-red-white flags and tried to push them out of the square. Policemen used violence, kicking the action participants including the girls who sat down on the asphalt in protest.
In May the public attention was focused on the situation of Uladzimir Asipenka, Mikalai Autukhovich and Yury Liavonau, the arrested entrepreneurs of the town of Vaukavusk. All of them were under investigation and were charged with intentional arsons and damage of property, which they deny. All three had health problems. Mikalai Autukhovich was kept in the medical department of the pre-trial prison, keeping a hunger-strike of protest since 16 April. He demanded that his case either be passed to court or the restraint be changed to all three accused. On 4 May the Young Front initiated a hunger-strike of solidarity. The entrepreneurs Ales Makayeu and Siarhei Parsiukevich, young activist Andrei Kim, former presidential candidate Aliaksandr Kazulin, politicians Liavon Barshcheuski, Mikhail Marynich, Mikola Statkevich, Mikhail Marynich, young activists Nasta Palazhanka, Andrei Tsianiuta, Mikola Dzemidzenka, etc. took part in the action. M. Autukhovich passed his gratitude though his attorney Pavel Sapelka and asked the people to stop the hunger-strike, because their 'health and youth are necessary to continue the struggle for democracy'.
On 16 May eight UCP members from Hrodna and Vaukavysk were detained for making a chain of concerned people opposite the central market of Vaukavysk. In their hands the activists held portraits of Mikalai Autukhovich. The detainees were given administrative charges. The trial was scheduled for 8 June.
In May Belarus joined the program of the European Union Eastern Partnership. As stated to journalists by Yacek Sariusz-Wolski, Chairperson on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, the EU expected from Belarus reform of the electoral legislation, the Criminal Code, the laws on mass media and change of the attitude to NGOs, religious organizations, civil society and opposition. According to him, the development of relations between Belarus and the EU would depend on progress in realization of these reforms.
1. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 7 May the rock-band Liapis Trubetskoy played live in the League club in Mahiliou. The concert ended with detentions. When the musicians started singing the song Freedom Belarus, the youth unfurled white-red-white flags. Police burst into the hall, detained Vital Markau, Stanislau Senakosau and Aliaksandr Tsitou and guarded them to the police station. Explanations were taken from the detainees. The policemen refused to issue the detainees with any copies of the detention reports. After the concert, police also detained and searched the people who had national symbols on their clothes and bags.
On 12 May in Nezalezhnastsi Avenue in Minsk, police detained the Young Front activists Viktoryia Ladzis and Pavel Kuryianovich for distribution of informational leaflets with calls to come to For Indepence march. They were guarded to the Pershamaiski district police department. Viktoryia Ladzis was under-age and was released in three hours. A violation report was drawn up on Pavel Kuryianovich. He was kept at the police station till trial. On 14 May the Pershamaiski district court in Minsk fined Pavel Kuryianovich 350 000 rubles (about $126) under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, 'violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions'.
On 12 May the Salihorsk court fined the local Young Front activists. Krystsina Samoilava was fined 700 000 rubles (about $252), Hleb Snorkin – 350 000 rubles (about $126) and Illia Nahorny – 525 000 rubles (about $189). Judge Burautsou demonstrated in the court hall a white canvas with the inscription 'School for All'.
The young activists had unrolled the banner in the center of Salihorsk on 5 May to protest against the unlawful drafting of their friend Ivan Shyla into the army before passing his last school exam. Later Ivan's under-aged brother Illia, who had been taking photos of the action, was also fined 1 750 000 rubles (about $630) by the administrative committee.
However, the action seems to have given some results: the Ministry of Education appointed the exam to I.Shyla on 9 June and the Ministry of Defense made an exception and permitted him to sit the exam (earlier the military refused to do it).
In the middle of May KGB officers paid a visit to the faculty of journalism of Belarusian State University. Activist of the Young Front, student Nadzeya Piakarskaya was summoned to the dean's office for a talk that lasted for 90 minutes. 'During all this time KGB officers were trying to incline me to collaboration with them. They proposed me to inform them about the activities of the Young Front and promised to solve all my problems for it, for instance – to find me a job after the graduation from the university,' said Nadzeya. The name of one of the visitors is Yury Salauyou. Another talk with the student was held by S. Dubovik, Dean of the faculty, who demanded explanations concerning the information he had received from police about her detention during the 7 May action. Being answered that her activities outside the university were not his business, dean threatened the activist with expulsion if she would be detained again.
2. Freedom of association
On 12 May the Ministry of Justice denied the state registration to the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. The official reason was that the documents that had been passed for registration contained inaccurate information. Some founders of the party could not tell the place and the date of the assemblies allegedly attended by them, the number of the present people and the surnames of the delegates elected to the constituent assembly. According to the official answer, the documents also contained other violations. Bear in mind that on 15 April BCD had been denied registration, but the decision was suspended in connected with application of a number of founders of the party to the Ministry and receiving some new information that could influence the decision on registration. At that time BCD co-Chairperson Pavel Seviarynets stated to the BelaPAN that the BCD would be doubtlessly denied registration as the authorities were afraid of legalizing a party working with educational establishments and the church.
In May the Ministry of Justice denied registration to the civil association Young Social Democrats – Young Hramada. The registration denial was motivated by the non-compliance of the organization charter to the legal requirements: in particular, the charter didn't determine the limits of the use of the NGOs' property, didn't describe the order of acceptance of members and the order of appealing against the decisions of the NGOs' governing organs. The aims of activities of Young Social Democrats – Young Hramada set forth in the charter ostensibly didn't meet the requirements of the Belarusian legislation either.
On 21 May the Hrodna oblast court considered the lawsuit of the Hrodna oblast branch of the BPF Party against its non-registration. Judge dismissed the lawsuit and left in force the decision on non-registration of the party organization.
On 28 May representatives of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna received from the Ministry of Justice the ruling On denial of the state registration to the civil association. Human rights defenders considered the reasons for the registration denial as unlawful and stated that the decision of the Ministry of Justice was politically motivated and discriminative. They also stated their intention to appeal against it at the Supreme Court though in 2007 and 2009 similar rulings of the Ministry of Justice were twice upheld by it.
3. Politically motivated criminal cases
The international human rights organization Amnesty International declared the participants of the 'Process of 14' prisoners of conscience. Amnesty International is convinced that the youngsters were punished for exercising their right to peaceful assemblies and freedom of opinion. In its information Amnesty International called the names of 11 participants of the 'Process of 14' who were serving terms of personal restraint, being kept practically under home arrest under a vigilant surveillance. In his address Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Program director at AI called on Prosecutor General of Belarus to free participants of the protest action from punishment and investigate into the allegations of beating of Aliaksandr Barazenka by a police officer on 23 March. In connection with this fact Amnesty International demanded from Prosecutor General's Office to control the actions of the policemen who were responsible for observance of the punishment conditions and ensure the fair treatment of the aforementioned 11 persons.
4. Freedom of conscience
The legal proceedings between the New Life church and the authorities concerning the dismantlement of the building in Kavaliou Street, 72 in Minsk started back in 2005. In January 2009 the Supreme Court confirmed the legality of the ruling of the Minsk city executive committee on confiscation of the piece of land, with subsequent buying out the building from the church for 37.5 million rubles. On 16 April the Minsk CEC made a written proposal to the believers to discuss the question of constructing a new building on another piece of land (about 0.4 hectare, four times smaller than the one they have in Kavaliou, Street). On 5 May the believers unanimously voted against it, explaining their position with a number of material complications and the protraction with building of the new temple. Meanwhile, in his letter of 14 May Zmitser Shashok, director of the Maskouski district housing economy of Minsk, proposed that the church vacated its building by 1 June. In its answer the administration of the church community stated that the believers intended to stay in the building.
5. Harassment of human rights defenders
On 15 May the Vitsebsk oblast procuracy passed to the Vitsebsk oblast court the criminal case against Vitsebsk human rights activist Leanid Svetsik under Article 130, part 1 of the Criminal Code. The trial was scheduled for 10 June. Bear in mind that at first L.Svetsik was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: incitement of racial, national or religious enmity (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and defamation of the President of Belarus (Article 367). Later the investigation dropped the charges under Article 367 because of absence of evidence. The human rights defender had to give written acknowledgement not to leave Vitsebsk. Leanid Svetsik pleaded innocent and considered the criminal case as revenge for his human rights activities.
6. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
On 28 May Piatro Ruzau, a regional activist of the Young Front, was expelled from Baranavichy State University for 'violating the internal regulations' after he had been detained for graffiti 'Freedom to Autukhovich' on the building of the Baranavichy meat processing and packing factory. The expulsion received a great covering in the media. The day after the expulsion the student received a telephone call from the dean's office and was invited for a talk. The rector S.Khachurka said he revoked the order for expulsion till next detention. Piatro Ruzau thinks that the reason for his rehabilitation at the place of study was the media resonance. 'The rector was dissatisfied that this case was elucidated by mass media, journalists called to the dean's office, etc. He said that I was discrediting and humiliating the university. Such active reaction of the media helped me a lot,' he said.
7. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 25 May a court in Lida punished the participants of the anti-nuclear action held on 25 April. Hanna Bunko, an activist of the Young Front, was fined 70 000 rubles (about $25) and Yauhen Rudy, an activist of the European Belarus, was issued with a warning. Prior to this, Yauhen Skrabets, another participant of the action, had been sentenced to one day of imprisonment for participation in the action.
The Brest city executive committee did not grant the application of the Brest oblast organization of the United Civil Party for picketing dated to the tenth anniversary of disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka. According to Chairperson of Brest oblast UCP Mikalai Koush, by means of this action political activists intended to draw the public attention to rude violation of the constitutional rights and liberties and persecution of the regime's opponents. The applicants were going to hold the picket in Locomotive stadium that had been determined by the Brest CEC as a place for mass actions. However, the action was banned, allegedly because a football tournament would be taking place at the stadium at the time of the action.
8. Freedom of information
On 6 May the Mahiliou oblast court considered the cassation complaint of Siarhei Niarouny, editor of the private Krychau newspaper Volny Horad, Uladzimir Kudrautsau, a founder of the newspaper, against the ruling of the Chavusy district court issued on 17 February. The College Board on Civil Affairs, presided by Sviatlana Simakova, Deputy Chairperson of the Mahiliou oblast court, upheld the verdict of the lower court on dismissing the lawsuit of Volny Horad against the state newspaper Leninskiy Klich on protection of honor, dignity and business reputation. The editor of Volny Horad is convinced that it was a politically motivated decision. 'Now we will publish in Volny Horad detailed information about the legal proceedings including the documents and speeches so that the readers could discriminate in everything on their own,' commented S.Niarouny.
On 18 May a freelance correspondent with the private newspaper Bobruiskii Kurier asked for a meeting with the chairperson of the department of architecture and municipal engineering of Babruisk town executive committee on errand of the editorial board. The official, who used to give information to Bobruiskii Kuryer, refused to meet with the journalist and said that at one of the recent counsels the local officials were ordered not to give any information to Bobruiskii Kurier. The journalist was proposed to address the ideological department with all questions.
On 27 May democratic activist Ales Zarembiuk received an answer to the application filed by him with the Masty town executive committee. The officials wrote that they could not provide any premises for a meeting of the editorial board of the private newspaper Nasha Niva with its readers, without providing a reason.
On 29 May the Biaroza district court issued an oral warning for 'violation of the public order during mass action' (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code) to human rights defender Tamara Shchapiotkina, a correspondent with Radio Racyja detained on 26 April in the town of Biaroza on her way home from the action Candle of Memory marking the 23rd anniversary of Chernobyl accident. A violation report had been drawn up on her. At the trial T.Shchapiotkina argued that just she implemented her professional duties at the action. However, her journalist certificate was expired at the moment of detention. The court ignored the evidence confirming that she was working for Radio Racyja.
In May the Kletsk activist Siarhei Panamarou received an answer from the local procuracy to his complaint concerning the detention of journalists and confiscation of equipment for shooting a video in central Kletsk. In the answer investigator of the procuracy Kanapatski confessed that the policemen of the Kletsk district police department had committed a number of violations of the administrative-process legislation of Belarus and informed Mr. Panamarou that the prosecutor of the Kletsk district submitted to the police department the demand for applying a disciplinary punishment to them.
9. Prison conditions
Mikalai Autukhovich still kept a hunger-strike against the lawlessness and self-will of the investigative agencies and absence of the prosecutorial surveillance over the investigation into his case. He was transferred from the medical department of the pre-trial prison to the republican prison hospital because of troubles with liver. The human rights defenders Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich twice attempted to pass him drinking water on his request, but received refusals. On 20 May the parcel was not accepted by the administration of the republican hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs ostensibly because Labkovich and Stefanovich weren't Autukhovich's relatives. On 22 May water was not accepted by the guards of pre-trial prison #1 of Minsk who said they did not accept water at all. Only 27 May, on the third attempt, some things were accepted – a TV antenna, chess and batteries. According to our information, during the hunger-strike M.Autukhovich has lost more than 15 kilos.
On 26 May he was interrogated by the Hrodna investigator Vital Kukharchyk. According to the lawyer, the talk was general, there were no details. Questions about illegal keeping of firearms and explosives were asked. Human rights defender Aleh Vouchak said he doubted that the investigation had evidence of guilt of the accused. 'If there was any, the case would have been already passed to court, which the accused entrepreneurs insist on,' he said.
Bear in mind, that the Vaukavysk activists of entrepreneur movement Uladzimir Asipenka, Mikalai Autukhovich and Yury Liavonau were detained on 8 February. On 18 February they were given charges under Article 218 of the Criminal Code for deliberate destruction of damage of property.
10. Incitement of national and racial enmity
In May Zmitser Salauyou, a human rights defender from Navapolatsk, lodged the third complaint with the Navapolatsk town procuracy, demanding to bring a criminal case on facts of hooliganism and incitement of national enmity. At present a group of neo-Nazis acts with impunity in Navapolatsk. Nazi symbols and slogans are periodically drawn on the walls of Navapolatsk houses. Before this, Mr. Salauyou had informed the procuracy about it in December 2008 and in March 2009, but in both cases the procuracy refused to bring a criminal case. In his latest complaint the activist referred to the recent facts of activity of the neo-Nazis. For instance, on 9 May in the evening they took away badges with national symbols from young activist A.Kucharenka and threatened her with beating. Before it some teenage skinheads had also assaulted female activists of the BPF Youth and threatened them. The girls immediately phoned to police, but did not get any support.