Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in June 2009
June was marked by trials of the politically motivated criminal cases against participants of the 'Process of 14' and human rights defender Leanid Svetsik. The under-aged Maksim Dashuk was punished with 15 months of personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary institution. Despite the adoption of the law on amnesty, only one participant of the 'Process of 14', Mikhail Pashkevich, was amnestied. Personal restraint was replaced with twice larger terms of corrective labor for two other participants of the 'Process of 14', Ales Charnyshou and Ales Straltsou.
The Belarusian authorities brought against the 25-year old citizen of Minsk Yauhen Volkau a criminal case under Article 193.1 for activities on behalf of the Movement of Unity (Mun's Church). Human rights defenders expressed concern with the authorities again using this article.
The International foundation for the protection of human rights defenders Front Line joined the campaign NO to Article 193.1!, launched by the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs. In its call to join the campaign the Assembly stated that in 2005-2009 17 members of unregistered organizations were fined or imprisoned under this article. Front Line is convinced of the necessity to abolish this article that contradicts to provisions of the International Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Belarus.
The Swedish initiative Östgruppen that supports the development of democracy and human rights in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia condemned the refusal of the Belarusian authorities to register the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna. The Swedish human rights defenders demanded from the government of their country and the EU a more energetic reaction to the registration denial. As stated by Chairperson of Östgruppen Martin Uggla, 'the decision of the Belarusian authorities is political. It proves that the Belarusian authorities are not going to engage in any democratic reforms'.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), made an official statement concerning the registration denial to the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna. The Observatory called on the Belarusian authorities to stop harassment of the human rights organization and not to interfere with the activities of its founders in Belarus.
The PACE resolution of 23 June also contains a separate paragraph dedicated to the registration of Nasha Viasna. In its recommendation to the Belarusian authorities PACE stated that 'dialogue can only be sustained through continuous efforts by the Belarusian leadership to make progress towards the attainment of Council of Europe standards' and called to 'allow the registration of the human rights organization Nasha Viasna'. The human rights activists A.Bialiatski, U.Labkovich and V.Stefanovich made an open statement that they have acted and will continue acting on behalf of the unregistered Human Rights Center Viasna.
On 22 June Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, paid an official visit to Minsk. Following the official negotiations the Commissioner made an open address to the Belarusian society. She stated that the EU and the European Commission expected from Belarus the implementation of the main conditions: cooperation with the Bureau on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (BDIHR) for reform of the electoral legislation of Belarus; abidance by the principles of freedom of mass media, assemblies and registration of NGOs and release of all political prisoners.
On 23 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe put the death penalty moratorium as the obligatory condition for returning to Belarus its guest status at the PACE. In response the Belarusian media published information that the court system of the country was ready to introduce the moratorium. On 25 June Valiantsin Sukala, Chairperson of the Supreme Court of Belarus, stated to journalists: 'If such exceptional penalty is marked as temporary in the Constitution of Belarus, this norm inevitably entails its abolition'. As said by him, during the recent years the death penalty has been used in Belarus on rare occasions, 'that's why there are no obstacles from the point of view of the court system'.
However, against the background of such laudable statements, on 29 June the Brest oblast court sentenced to death a 30-year-old serial killer.
1. Harassment of political and civil activists. Activities of security services
On 8 June Sviatlana Lantsevich, Judge of the Vaukavysk district court, fined participants of the action in support of the political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich on 16 May. Chairperson of the Hrodna oblast UCP organization Yury Istomin was fined 700 000 rubles (about $252) under Article 23.34, part 3 of the Administrative Code. The UCP members Zmitser Bandarchuk, Andrei Ihnatsiuk, Aleh Kalinkou, Mikhas Ladushka and Aliaksandra Vasilevich and Chairperson of the Civil Forum Pavel Drachou were fined 70 000 rubles (about $252) under Article 23.34, part 1. The trial of Vital Huliak was postponed because of his absence.
On 10 June the administrative commission of the Asipovichy district executive committee fined participant of the 'Process of 14' Artsiom Dubski 875 000 Belarusian rubles (about $315). Artsiom was detained on 10 May. He was accused of drawing graffiti 'Freedom to Autukhovich!' on the walls of an administrative building.
On 10 June the Leninski district court in Minsk fined the activists of the European Belarus Aleh Ladutska and Maksim Viniarski 1 050 000 rubles (about $358) each and Palina Dziakava – 700 000 rubles (about $252) for holding an action of solidarity with Mikalai Autukhovich near Presidential Administration. Under-aged Katsiaryna Liudvik was released.
On 12 June the press-service of the Young Front distributed information about bringing a criminal case on kidnapping of Dzianis Karnou and Nasta Palazhanka on the eve of the 25 March action. The activists were seized by unknown people and taken out of the city. Dzianis Karnou was beaten and robbed. At first the victims applied to police, but received a negative reply. Then representatives of the civil society addressed the Prosecutor General and a number of state institutions and foreign embassies with the demand to investigate into the crime. The address was signed by several tens of well-known politicians and artists.
On 16 June in Homel, a computer and literature belonging to the Young Front activist Andrei Tsianiuta were confiscated as a result of an unsanctioned search in his apartment. Bear in mind that A.Tsianiuta was fined for an action on the Day of Native Language, but could not pay the fine due to financial problems. The court marshals came to his house to attach some property, but he refused to open the door, after which they called police. An investigator searched the apartment without the prosecutor's warrant.
On 22 June Valiantsina Kismiaroshkina, Judge of the Pershamaiski district court in Vitsebsk fined the young activists Kastus Ivanou and Aliaksei Pilevich 700 000 rubles (about $252) each. The activists were detained on 26 April, on the eve of the commemorative action dedicated to the 23rd anniversary of Chernobyl accident. In their reports the police accused A.Pilevich of haven't shown his passport and K.Ivanou – of physical resistance during the detention. The judge found the defendants guilty though the violations weren't seen in the police video of the action. She just 'trusted' the police witnesses.
2. Freedom of association
On 4 June the Supreme Court of Belarus did not grant the lawsuit of the founders of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs against the Ministry of Justice concerning the registration denial. The same day a press-conference with participation of Chairperson of the Working Group of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs Siarhei Matskevich, representatives of the HRC Viasna Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich and political scientist Yury Chavusau took place.
On 4 June the founders of the civil human rights association Berastseiskaya Viasna learned that the Brest oblast executive committee refused to register the organization for the third time. The main reason was that the owner of the apartment revoked his guarantee to provide the organization with legal address, after receiving a telephone call from the Brest oblast executive committee which 'advised' him to do it. Human rights defender Uladzimir Vialichkin stated that in such a way the authorities deprived citizens of the constitutional right to association. On 22 June the founders of the organization appealed against the registration denial at the Brest oblast court.
On 10 June the administration of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party filed with the Supreme Court a lawsuit against the actions of the Ministry of Justice during the state registration of the BCD. Christian democrats demanded from the authorities to register the party. They considered the reasons for non-registration as unlawful, groundless and not corresponding to the actual circumstances in which the party was established. The Ministry of Justice refused to register the party on 12 May, after studying the registration documents and finding alleged inaccuracies in them.
On 15 June the Ministry of Justice for the fourth time refused to register the Party of Freedom and Progress because 'the minutes of the constituent assembly contain contradictory information' (in particular, the Ministry of Justice allegedly found violations in the order of nomination of candidates) and 'the list of founders contains incorrect information'. On 27 June the political council of the party decided to appeal against the non-registration at the Supreme Court. The attempts of the Party of Freedom and Progress to register with the state started in 2003. Its leader Uladzimir Navasiad is indignant at the reprisals of the Ministry of Justice against the founders: in some cases the officers of the Ministry of Justice submitted copies of the registration documents to district executive committees and KGB that pressurized the founders.
On 16 June Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich, founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna, lodged with the Supreme Court of Belarus a lawsuit against the registration denial by the Ministry of Justice. The human rights defenders stated that the reasons for non-registration of Nasha Viasna were unlawful, discriminative and violated the rights and legal interests of founders of the civil association.
On 25 June the main justice department of the Hrodna oblast executive committee denied the state registration to the educational association Spadchyna from Biarozauka. The official reason was that the registration documents allegedly didn't meet the legal requirements. Siarhei Trafimchyk, Chairperson of the organization, said that the registration denial witnessed the reluctance of the authorities to see another legal democratic organization.
3. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 11 June Mikhail Pashkevich, leader of the Young Democrats who had been sentenced to two years of personal restraint within the frames of the 'Process of 14', was familiarized with the ruling of the Biaroza district prosecutor on his amnestying. By that time he spent almost ten months in the conditions of home arrest. He became the first participant of the 'Process of 14' who was granted parole.
On 15 June it became known that the Tsentralny district court in Minsk considered the proposals of police on mitigating the penalty to the participants of the 'Process of 14' Ales Charnyshou and Ales Straltsou and replaced personal restraint with corrective labor (according to the law the term of the corrective labor in this case is twice longer than the term of personal restraint). Besides, as a result the activists have to pay 15% of their wages to the state.
On 15 June the Maskouski district court in Minsk found the participant of the 'Process of 14' Maksim Dashuk guilty of violating the regime of his penalty (Article 415 of the Criminal Code). Representative of the procuracy asked the court to use Article 70 of the Criminal Code, according to which one could be given an easier punishment because of mitigating circumstances: the death of Maksim's father and his being under age. As a result Judge Kuzniatsova sentenced the defendant to 15 months of personal restraint without direction to penitentiary institution.
4. Freedom of conscience
On 17 June the administrative commission of the Horki district executive committee fined 175 000 rubles (about $63) Piatro Malanachkin, an initiator of collection of signatures against construction of a nuclear power station, believer of the unregistered Protestant community Freedom In God. He was found guilty of violating the law by installing a stand for religious literature near his house. P.Malanachkin stated that he would not demolish the stand, which the commission ordered him to do in oral form. Mr. Malanachkin is convinced that his punishment is connected to the activities of the anti-nuclear group in Horki.
On 18 June Siarhei Hrakhouski, a senior investigator of the most important cases of Minsk procuracy, brought a criminal case under Article 193.1 against the 25-year-old citizen of Minsk Yauhen Volkau for activities on behalf of the unregistered organization Movement of Unity (also known as Mun's Church). On 29 June the investigator refused to admit Volkau's lawyer to an interrogation, which is a rude violation of Article 62 of the Constitution that guarantees all citizens the right to legal defense.
5. Harassment of human rights defenders
On 10 June the Vitsebsk oblast court started the trial of human rights defender Leanid Svetsik accused of involvement in sending threat letters on behalf of the Russian National Unity (Russian neo-Nazi organization) in 2006-2007. Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the HRC Viasna, stated that the criminal case against L.Svetsik and the trial were aimed at discrediting the human rights movement. The Vitsebsk oppositionist Barys Khamaida, who had also received threat letters from RNU and was a victim in the case, stated impeachment to Judge Halina Urbanovich. He said that he believed neither that the judges appointed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka could try cases fairly nor that Svetsik was guilty.
Article 130, part 1 of the Criminal Code, under which Leanid Svetsik was accused, envisages up to 5 years of imprisonment as punishment.
6. Politically motivated expulsions from educational establishments and dismissals from work
On 23 June Hrodnaselbudprayekt did not extend the labor contract to Raman Yurhel, representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee in Hrodna oblast. The activist was explained that the new contract was not concluded with him because of his bronchial asthma, hindrering in implementation of the working duties by him. He was also reminded about having two administrative punishments for organization of unauthorized pickets. Mr. Yurhel considers that the administrative punishments are the real reason of his dismissal.
7. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
The Minsk city executive committee did not authorize pro-life actions dated to the Universal Child Protection Day, 1 June. According to the answer of the officials, received by Aliaksei Shein, co-Chairperson of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, the Druzhby Narodau Park, where the BCD activists intended to hold a picket against abortions on 2 June, would be cleansed at that time. The BCD secretary Dzianis Sadouski was also informed that actions near maternity hospitals could violate the public order. These pickets were planned within the frames of the campaign Strong Family – Strong Belarus, launched by the BCD in January 2009.
On 25 June Maryna Damnenka, Judge of the Tsentralny district court in Homel, fined Piatro Kuzniatsou, Anatol Paplauny, Vasil Papou and Yury Zakharanka, participants of an action in the memory of Yury Zakharanka, former Minister of Interior. Uladzimir Katsora, a regional coordinator of the For Freedom movement, was sentenced to three days of jail. All activists were accused of violating the law on mass actions. Uladzimir Katsora was arrested after the trial and went on hunger-strike of protest.
8. Freedom of information
On 3 June the administrative commission of the Chyhunachny district executive committee of Vitsebsk fined 105 000 rubles (about $38) the distributor of private socio-political press Barys Khamaida who was detained on 7 May for 'spoiling the appearance of the central part of the city'.
On 26 June the Astravets district court fined 700 000 rubles (about $252) Ivan Kruk, initiator of the campaign Astravets nuclear power station is a crime accused of distribution of printed editions without imprint for giving to a neighbor-pensioner some newspapers with information about the consequences of construction of the nuclear power station in Belarus (Astravetski Vesnik, Mirny Atam, Novy Chas, Glotok Vozdukha and Vileishchyna). During the trial Mr. Kruk tried to prove that he had given the newspapers for reading and hadn't distributed them. However, the court ignored this explanation. As stated by the activist, the police actions violate Article 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, and Article 34, guaranteeing the right of citizens to receive complete and timely information.
On 23 June, police detained on the highway Hrodna-Minsk Mechyslau Yaskevich, Deputy Chairperson of the Union of Poles in Belarus in disgrace; Ihar Bantsar, the UPB Press Secretary; Andzhei Pisalnik, journalist with the RzeczPospolita newspaper; and Andrei Pachobut, journalist with Gazeta Wyborcza. They were kept at the Shchuchyn district police department for three hours and then were let go. Police confiscated from the detainees the newspaper Glos znad Niemna na uchodzstwie and the magazine Magazyn Polski that were issued by the UPB. The policemen said they detained the UPB activists because of the information that they were allegedly trafficking anti-state editions. At present the confiscated editions are examined by the ideological department of the Shchuchyn district executive committee.
9. Prison conditions
On 2 June the investigation into the criminal case against Mikalai Autukhovich, Yurly Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka was extended for another month. On 9 June, lawyer Pavel Sapelka filed with the procuracy a complaint against actions of the investigation in the case of his client Mikalai Autukhovich. The lawyer had no right to tell any details of his complaint as he gave a written undertaking for nondisclosure of details of the case. On 29 June Aliaksandr Kamarouski and Aleh Volchak, co-chairmen of the organizing committee of the organization of Afghan War Veterans Defenders of Fatherland, again demanded from Prosecutor General Ryhor Vasilevich to change the restraint to the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs. 'If Autukhovich dies, the procuracy will have to answer for it, as it is legally responsible for controlling the implementation of the law', says Aleh Volchak. The human rights defender also insists on establishment of an independent international commission for expertise of the criminal case against the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs. During the five months the investigation concerning the official accusation of arsons was not conducted. Instead, there was unofficial investigation concerning a grenade launcher. By that time Mikalai Autukhovich had been on hunger-strike for more than 80 days and had serious health problems.
On 26 June the prisoner of the Mahiliou colony, US citizen Emmanuel Zeltser stopped the hunger-strike he had declared on 8 June to protest against the actions of the Minsk city court that did not present to the colony administration the documents that were necessary for considering the question of amnestying him.
Emmanuel Zeltser was arrested on landing at Minsk airport in March 2008, and in August he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of industrial espionage and using forged documents. His secretary Vladilena Funk (Bruskova) was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and was released in March 2009.
10. Death penalty
The Brest oblast court sentenced a 30-year-old man to death for a series of murders. His 28-year-old accomplice was given life sentence.
In the second half of January in Hrodna, representatives of the liquidated Human Rights Center Viasna held the action Human Rights Defenders against Death penalty together with young activists of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, the United Civil Party, the Young Democrats and the Civil Forum. Three days in succession they handed out to Hrodna citizens pocket calendars with the inscription 'Belarus is the only country in Europe that still retains the death penalty' and told them about the situation of the death penalty in Europe and in Belarus.
On 24 June Viktar Huminski, Chairperson of the National Security Commission of the Chamber of Representatives, stated that death penalty could be abolished in Belarus, but not because of the PACE demands, but because Belarusians had changed since the times of referendum 1996. 'A special group has been established at the Chamber of Representatives to study the question of abolition of the death penalty and work out the appropriate proposals. The PACE knows about it,' said Mr. Huminski. Bear in mind that on 23 June the PACE voted for returning of the guest status to Belarus provided that the Belarusian authorities would introduce a moratorium on executions.