Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in July-August 2009
A year passed since the celebration of the official Independence Day on 3 July 2008, at which more than 50 people had been injured after the explosion of a home-made bomb. A criminal case under the article 'malignant hooliganism' was brought on this fact. Aleh Piakarski, Chairperson of the organized crime department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, stated to Interfax that, 120 persons were considered as suspects in the explosion case since 3 July 2008 till 3 July 2009, but none of them proved to be guilty.
Police also looked the guilty among oppositionists. The campaign on dactilography of the population reached an unprecedented scale. About 1.3 million people (out of about 4.5 male adults) were fingerprinted, while 12 000 refused from this procedure. The MIA officers stated the investigation was going on 24 hours a day. However, the main result was missing – the perpetrators weren't found. Soon after the explosion the state secretary of the Security Soviet Viktar Sheiman and Head of Presidential Administration Henadz Niavyhlas lost their positions.
Entrepreneur Mikalai Autukhovich was accused of preparation of a terrorist act. On 8 August six months turned since the moment when M.Autukhovich, Yu.Liavonau and U.Asipenka had been arrested in Vaukavysk on charges in arson of a policeman's house. The investigation was closed and the lawyers had to give a written undertaking not to disclose the investigation details. Autukhovich kept a hunger-strike for three months, putting his health and life in danger to protest against the unlawful arrest. Though he felt better after stopping the hunger-strike on 16 July, the prisoner still has serious health problems.
There were no significant oppositional actions in July-August. However, participants of local and regional actions still faced administrative pressurization, including detentions, fines, arrests and politically motivated firings. On 16 July, a Solidarity Day, more than 60 people were detained in Belarus. This time police brought no charges against the detainees.
Belarusian human rights defenders expressed their concern with bringing a new criminal case under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code – 'Unlawful organizing or running a civil association or a foundation' against representative of an unregistered religious organization. The Prosecutor General did not agree with the arguments of human rights defenders about the incompatibility of Article 193.1 with the international undertakings of Belarus in the sphere of human rights. This is stated in the official answer of Deputy Prosecutor General Siarhei Myshkavets to the inquiry of the international civil association Civil Belarus concerning the proposal for the abolition of this article. The country's authorities also ignored the demands to use amnesty towards the young activists who were punished with personal restraint within the frames of the 'Process of 14'. One of them, prisoner of conscience Artsiom Dubski, was sent to a penal colony to serve a prison term.
On 17 August, relatives of the missing Belarusian politicians and the independent lawyers who worked on their cases, held a special press-conference on the tenth anniversary of the still undisclosed kidnapping of former Deputy Speaker of the Supreme Soviet Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski. During this long period of time the relatives of the missing opponents of Aliaksandr Lukashenka have been trying to make the authorities conduct an objective investigation into these crimes. The authorities haven't done anything to give publicity to the truth about them. Human rights defender Hary Pahaniaila stated at the press-conference that from the juridical point of view the cases of the missing politicians had been disclosed. The persons who are suspected in these crimes have been identified. 'Otherwise we would have received the refutation of the political version of the disappearances', emphasized the lawyer. On 17 August Viktar Hanchar's wife Zinaida Hanchar; Volha Zavadskaya, mother of kidnapped cameraman of ORT TV channel Dzmitry Zavadski; and Uliana Zakharanka, mother of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka; addressed the General Procuracy demanding that Prosecutor General Ryhor Vasilevich made a public report about the results of the investigation into 'disappearances' of their relatives by 16 September.
There was no progress in freedom of press either. According to the BAJ information, only one private newspaper out the 'list of 13', Bobruiskii Kurier, was returned to the state distribution net on recommendation of the Civil Soviet on mass media.
In the beginning of August the Belarusian consulate in Paris denied visa to Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation of Human Rights. During her visit Mrs. Belhassen intended to meet with representatives of the civil society, discuss the progress in the democratization of the Belarusian society and attend the hearings in the Supreme Court concerning the registration denial to the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna. In autumn 2007, FIDH President visited Belarus for the first time. She submitted official letters to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and other state organs, asking for meetings with their administration. These letters were ignored by all officials.
On 3 August the press-service of the office of the European Commission in Minsk issued an official statement to express its serious concerns with another death sentence in Belarus. 'This death sentence has been issued by the Minsk oblast court to Andrei Zhuk. A month earlier another death sentence was made,' is pointed in the document. The European Union again called Belarus to abolish the death penalty, and introduce a moratorium on its use as an initial step. Bear in mind that on 23 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided that Belarus can regain its guest status at the Council of Europe only after introduction of a death penalty moratorium. Nevertheless, two death verdicts were issued after the PACE sitting.
1. Freedom of association
On 2 July the Supreme Court of Belarus upheld the decision of the Ministry of Justice on non-registration of the Young Democrats. Members of the oppositional organization are sure in the absence of the legal grounds for the registration denial and stated that the found shortcomings in the registration documents could have been corrected easily if the Ministry had allowed it. However, officers of the Ministry of Justice qualified the shortcomings in the registration documents as 'non-presentation of the documents necessary for registration'. The Young Democrats stated they once again ascertained that the actions of the Ministry of Justice were aimed at the prevention of appearance of new registered civil organizations and maximally hampered the development of the civil society in the country.
On 22 July Valer Samaliuk, judge of the Supreme Court, turned down the complaint of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party against its non-registration by the Ministry of Justice. BCD co-Chairperson Aliaksei Shein believes that 'the reasons for the registration denial are political, which is confirmed by the campaign on pressurization of the BCD founders, organized by the Ministry of Justice in cooperation with KGB, MIA and the local authorities'. 'BCD is a party that exists de facto. It will continue its activities even in the absence of the state registration,' stated Dzianis Sadouski, Responsible Secretary of the party. The party administration stated its intention to apply for the state registration once again.
On 21 July Nina Ustsimchuk, Judge of the Brest oblast court, turned down the complaint against the non-registration of the Brest oblast human rights center Berastseiskaya Viasna. It was already the second registration denial in 2009. This time the official reason for it was the revocation of the guarantee letter for providing the organization with a legal address, about which the human rights activists weren't informed.
On 12 August the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the complaint of the founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna against the registration denial. The third attempt of legalizing the organization gave no results, though the arguments of the representative of the Ministry of Justice were far-fetched and groundless. The human rights activists decided not to make any further steps for registering with the state. Instead, they stated their intention to address the UN Human Rights Committee with a complaint against the systematic violation of their right to association. As stated by Deputy President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski, Chairperson of the liquidated Human Rights Center Viasna and Elected Chairperson of Nasha Viasna, during the last attempt the process of registration was as important as the result. The founders of the civil association managed to shed light on the whole mechanism of the state suppression of the right to association in Belarus.
2. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 1 July the Tsentralny district court in Minsk fined the detained activists of the European Belarus Uladzimir Kumets and Maksim Viniarski 350 000 rubles (about $125) for hanging out a streamer 'Freedom to Autukhovich!'. Police accused the detainees of 'disorderly conduct' and told they allegedly used obscene language and insulted the police. A false witness confirmed this information at the trial.
In the beginning of July, Judge of the Leninski district court in Hrodna Bialinski fined the young activists Yauhen Hatalski and Raman Shvaba 175 000 rubles (about $62) each for distribution an anti-crisis program. The charges were brought under Article 21.14 of the Administrative Code – violation of the rules of improvement of settlements. At the police station the detainees were also fingerprinted. Besides, the member of Hrodna branch of the Young Front Hatalski was also summonsed for a talk with the administration of the polytechnic where he studied. The talk was conducted in presence of representatives of the ideological vertical and KGB officers, who threatened the activist with expulsion from the educational establishment.
On 22 July, Judge of Homel oblast court Dzmitry Uloha turned down the cassation complaints of the democratic activists U.Katsora, V.Paliakou, A.Paplauny,Yu.Zakharanka who had been fined on 25 June for an action in the memory of the missing police general Yury Zakharanka.
The Leninski district court in Brest fined the local history student Dzianis Turchaniak 1.4 million rubles (about $493) and Young Front activist Mikhas Iliin – 140 000 rubles (about $49), for participation in the picket near the monument to the 1000th anniversary of Brest, held on 17 August. At the picket the activists handed out leaflets with the proposal that the authorities should return to the people the money raised for the monument.
By the way, the city celebrated only its 990th anniversary in 2009. Nevertheless, the local authorities forced the people to donate money for the monument whose total budget is 1.8 billion rubles. The final variant of the monument had huge differences from the initial project. There are 12 bronze tables on the sides of the monument. All inscriptions in them are in the Belarusian language, but there are as many as 75 mistakes. 'It is a triumph of illiteracy', points Yury Bushliakou, candidate of philological sciences.
On 12 August the Chyhunachny district court in Vitsebsk fined 175 000 rubles (about $62) Taras Surhan, the activist of Young Belarus who attempted to hang out a white-red-white flag on a bridge over the Western Dzvina river. The verdict of Judge Uladzislau Shyrokau was grounded on the police report accusing T.Surhan of unauthorized picketing. An administrative warning was issued to the activist of the Young Hramada Valer Ramanenka for alleged involvement in hanging out the streamer 'Freedom to Political Prisoners!'. On 16 July police also detained the young activists Katsiaryna Aliakseyeva and Filip Shaurou.
3. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 7 July the Asipovichy district court sentenced Young Front activist Artsiom Dubski, participant of the 'Process of 14', to one year of imprisonment. Dubski was charged under Article 415 of the Criminal Code for violating the rules of serving the penalty. The reason was his moving to the Ukraine without permission of the local police inspector. Dubski was taken into custody in the court hall. On 13 July he was transferred to the pre-trial prison in Babruisk and was kept there until his case was reviewed by a higher court instance. On 20 July he declared a hunger-strike to protest against the severe prison conditions. Three days later he stopped hungering and informed that he was being treated better.
On 13 July, members of the Human Rights House Foundation addressed the Belarusian authorities with the call to immediately and unconditionally release the young activist, refuse from politically motivated harassment and completely abolish all penalties to all participants of the 'Process of 14'. Amnesty International declared Artsiom Dubski and 11 other participants of the 'Process of 14' prisoners of conscience.
On 12 August figurant of the 'Process of 14' Aliaksandr Barazenka learned he had been amnestied. Meanwhile, another participant of the 'Process of 14' Ales Straltsou was not granted parole, as the Minsk city court turned down his complaint against the verdict of Tsentralny district court in Minsk of 15 June 2009 mitigating the penalty from which Straltsou was to have been amnestied in conformity with the law On Amnesty. Chairperson of the Minsk city court, Putsila, stated in a letter that the verdict of the Tsentralny district court was lawful and well grounded, that's why there are no reasons to grant the complaint. The Belarusian human rights defenders and the world community demanded amnesty for all participants of the 'Process of 14'. Only four of them – Aliaksandr Barazenka, Mikhail Pashkevich, Mikhail Subach and Pavel Vinahradau – were amnestied by the end of August.
On 12 August in Brest, police detained Mikhas Iliin, Chairperson of the local branch of the Young Front. From the police station he was guarded to the procuracy, where he was issued with a 'warning and caution' statement for participation in the unregistered organization, which is penalizeed by Article 193.1.
On 20 August the College Board of the Mahiliou oblast court turned down the cassation complaint of Artsiom Dubski against the verdict of the Asipovichy district court and refused to change the restraint to him. The trial was held in the absence of the plaintiff, who was not brought to it from the jail.
On 28 August Dubski was transferred from the pre-trial prison in Babruisk to a penal colony in Mahiliou oblast.
4. Harassment of human rights defenders
On 16 July Halina Urbanovich, Judge of the Vitsebsk oblast court, found human rights defender Leanid Svetsik guilty of inciting to national and racial enmity (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and fined him 31.5 million rubles (about $11,050). Besides, the court obliged Svetsik to pay 1 million rubles in moral damages to Tamara Krasnova-Husachenka, Chairperson of the Vitsebsk branch of the pro-governmental Union of Writers of Belarus.
5. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
In July, Minsk authorities twice prohibited pickets in support of homeless animals, the first of which was to have taken place on 10-11 July and the second – on 31-July near the vivarium of the city's organization City's Fauna. In the first refusal the officials stated that the application allegedly did not meet the requirements of the law On mass events, and in the second – that the action would allegedly block the traffic and movement of pedestrians. The picket organizers intended to turn the public attention to the necessity of adopting a law on protection of animals from cruel treatment. They proposed creation of a program on catching and sterilizing homeless animals and finding new owners for them; development of the volunteer movement and the establishment of long-term animal quarters for cats and dogs and insisted on working out educational programs for the population.
On 13 August the Haradok district court found Leanid Autukhou, Chairperson of the Haradok organization of the BPF Party, guilty of organizing an unauthorized mass action and fined him 1 050 000 rubles (about $365). The matter is that on 27 June local oppositionists came to the central square of the town with national white-red-white flags in order to congratulate the citizens on the anniversary of the Independence Declaration. The Belarusian authorities abolished this holiday after the 1996 referendum and started celebrating the Independence Day on 3 July, the day when the Soviet troops liberated Minsk from the Nazis.
In August, the Minsk authorities also banned a picket in defense of social rights of citizens in conditions of the economical crisis, organized by the Minsk city organization of the Party of Communists Belarusian on 21 August on Yakub Kolas Square.
6. Freedom of information
On 14 July Aliaksandr Arkhipau, Prosecutor of the Minsk city procuracy, issued warnings for 'unlawful journalist activities' to the members of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Aksana and Aliaksandr Kalinkins. The reason for the warning was their cooperation with the Russian TV Channel Telekanal Blagikh Novostey (TV Channel of Good News). The procuracy enumerated the reports made by the journalists and broadcast by the TV channel: celebration of the Catholic Easter, spiritual-educational events, the opening of the informational-educational religious center in Minsk, etc.
On 20 July the editorial board of the Barysauskiya Naviny private newspaper received from the Barysau district executive committee a negative answer to the request for accreditation. In the letter signed by Yury Shyliahin, Acting Chairperson of the executive committee, it was stated that mass media were separately accredited for each event and received invitations, that's why accreditation of journalists was possible only according to this scheme. It is almost a word-to-word repetition of the letter, received from the main ideological department of the Minsk oblast executive committee several days before. The chief editor of the newspaper Anatol Bukas stated that this accreditation scheme was a fiction and such letters were plain come-offs.
On 29 July the Hrodna oblast procuracy issued an official warning to the chief editor of Magazyn Polski Ihar Bantsar for his professional activities and the fact that the magazine of the Union of Poles in Belarus in disgrace had no imprint, which contradicted to requirements of the Belarusian legislation. Meanwhile, Magazyn Polski has been issued in such a format for five years already and didn't face such pretensions before. The editor believes that the real reason for the warning is the content of the May issue, featuring a collage of Aliaksandr Lukashenka looking like the Russian czar Aliaksandr III. This editionalso contained a critical article by Andzhei Pisalnik Kolia Must Become President. Several days after the warning to Bantsar Mr. Pisalnik also received a warning from the Homel oblast procuracy for trafficking the unregistered editions Glos znad Niemna na uchodzstwie and Magazyn Polski.
On 21 August Volha Sharapkina, a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists from Mahiliou, received from the Chavusy district procuracy an official warning for journalist activities without accreditation. The journalist believes that the real reason for the warning was her report about an orphanage broadcast on the BelSat TV channel.
At the end of July the editorial board of the Arche magazine received a letter from Ihar Dudzich, Director of the state monopolist Belsayuzdruk. The official stated that Belsayzdruk could not continue selling the magazine through its newsstands because there were too many periodicals including mass-political and fictional ones. Valer Bulhakau, chief editor of Arche, stated that conditions for distribution of press remained unequal. In particular, on 11 August Vasil Zdaniuk, chief editor of the private socio-political newspaper Snplus received an official letter from Yury Komar, Chairperson of the state monopolist on the press subscription Belposhta informing that the newspaper would not be included in the subscription catalog for the second half of 2009. No explanations were offered for it. The Brest branch of BelPoshta also refused to return the subscription to the private newspaper Hantsavitski Chas.
On 17 July the Zhodzina police detained six activists of the United Civil Party for an attempt to hand-out the private newspaper Novy Chas at the check-point of the BelAZ factory. About 500 copies of the newspaper were confiscated. Aliaksei and Raman Bahdanovichs, Uladzimir Kazak, Siarhei Kliuyeu, Aliaksandr Serhiyenka and Aliaksandr Stsepanenka were guarded to the police station where a confiscation report was drawn up. The leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka also came there to hand-out to the workers Novaya Hazeta and brochures about anti-crisis measures, proposed by representatives of the democratic movement. He said that 14 police and KGB officers waited for the activists near the check-point to prevent them from distributing the editions. That's why A.Liabedzka addressed Interior Minister Anatol Kuliashou with the request to investigate into the incident and return the unlawfully confiscated informational materials.
7. Freedom of conscience
On 14 July Aksana Sarakhman, Judge of the court in Baranavichy and Baranavichy district, fined the New Generation, church of the association of denominations of Full Gospel Christians, 350 000 rubles for 'non-charter activities'. The report under part 1 of Article 9.9 of the Administrative Code composed on 21 June by Siarhei Puzikau, leading specialist of the ideological department of the Baranavichy city executive committee was grounded solely on the basis of an advertising pamphlet.
On 20 August it became known that the Minsk city procuracy dropped the criminal case against Yauhen Volkau 'because of absence of corpus delicti'. In June Volkau was accused of actions on behalf of the unregistered Movement of Unity (Mun's Church) which was the first criminal case against a representative of an unregistered religious organization since the enforcement of Article 193.1 in 2006.
8. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
In July Aliaksandr Strachuk, a correspondence student of Brest Pedagogical University and activist of the BPF Party, was informed that his labor contract, ending on 7 August, would not be extended. Mr. Strachuk had worked at Kobryn public utilities for a year and had no pretensions from the administration. He thinks he was fired because of his refusal to join the pro-governmental organization Belaya Rus.
In July Pavel Chuduk, a member of the BPF Youth, was expelled from the second year of the theological faculty of Belarusian State University because of 'poor academic progress'. He encountered problems after a trip to Sweden, where he monitored the elections to the European Parliament.
Pavel returned to Minsk on 9 July and was immediately summonsed to Dean's office. There he was shown some photos from the Chernobyl Way action and was told it was impossible to combine civil and political activism and studies at the faculty headed by Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church Filaret. Later the lecturers on religious studies and German did not agree to give him credits, after which the student was expelled from the university.
Earlier Pavel had no problems with his studies and was quite a successful student. 'I don't rule out that I will try entering European Humanities University in Vilnius to continue my studies', said the activist.
At the end of August the director of Lukoml hydroelectric power plant (HEPP) warned Aliaksei Habryel, Chairperson of a primary organization of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, that his labor contract wouldn't be extended because of his trade union activities.
9. Prison conditions
On 1 July the American lawyer Emmanuel Zetser, granted parole by Aliaksandr Lukashenka on 30 June, arrived at New-York and gave his first interview with RFE/RL. Being asked about the way he had been treated in KGB custody and in prisons, whether he had been really beaten, tortured and blackmailed, he answered that he had been deprived of the medicines that were necessary for him because of his chronic illnesses. He also confirmed physical abuse. All in all, Emmanuel Zetlser has the worst memories about his stay in the KGB jail. 'Belarus is the descendant of the worst of what was there in the USSR. What can we say if there's a portrait of Dzerzhinskii in each investigator's office. He's a murderer! Nowhere else in the CIS countries have I met an organization with such a terrible name, KGB, only in Belarus! It has been renamed everywhere, as it is a very terrible word, sounding like Gestapo.' He also said that about 90% of the people who were sitting in the Belarusian jails either got there because of lawlessness or received too large terms. The penitentiary system of Belarus does not meet the western standards for human treatment of prisoners. Mr. Zeltser also pointed at the absence of medical aid and the redundancy of prisoners.
On 3 July the term of the investigation into the case of the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka was extended again. On 16 July M.Autukhovich stopped the hunger-strike that lasted for 91 day, since 16 April. During this time he lost more than 35 kilos and was in a critical state.
On 8 August there turned six months since detention of the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs. The investigation was extended for two more months. One of the arrested, Yury Liavonau, was released under written undertaking not to leave and not to disclose details of the investigation. As a result all circumstances of the criminal case and the charges on it remained closed to the public. M.Autukhovich, Yu.Liavonau and U.Asipenka were detained on 8 February. Ten days after it they were charged under Article 218 of the Criminal Code, 'deliberate damage or destruction of property'. On 23 June a criminal case on preparation to a crime under Article 359 was brought against M.Autukhovich and 'other persons' (according to the MIA information). Taking into consideration the gravity of the charges, human rights defenders demand an open trial of the case.
10. Death penalty
On 22 July the Minsk oblast court pronounced verdicts to murderers of workers of Balshavik Agro enterprise. One of them, Andrei Zhuk, was sentenced to death.