Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in September 2009
September closed the additional six-month test period the Belarusian authorities were given for starting democratic transformations in the country. Meanwhile, no significant steps were made for improving the situation of human rights in Belarus. The fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of consciousness remained restricted. On 24 September, at a briefing for representatives of international missions and journalists, the Assembly of pro-Democratic NGOs gave a preliminary evaluation to the activities of the Belarusian authorities on normalization of the situation of NGOs for the previous six months. Siarhei Matskevich, Chairperson of the Working group of the Assembly of NGOs, stated the absence of progress on the three points set for by the European Union: the abolition of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, the abolition of the death penalty, the resolution of the problem of non-registration of civil organizations and introduction of a reduced-price office rent tariff for them.
Many youth and human rights associations faced registration denials in March-September. In the overwhelming majority of cases the denials were wire-drawn and reflected the political will of the authorities who tried to prevent the legalization of new NGOs and political parties.
In September, a number of peaceful actions were violently dispersed in Minsk. Their participants were beaten by police. On 9 September a peaceful action of protest was held on Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk to protest against the arrival of the Russian troops on the territory of Belarus for joint military trainings. The action was held under the slogan 'Say NO to the Russian occupation! Long live Belarus!' and was dated to the beginning of the joint Belarusian-Russian military training West-2009. Police detained about 30 persons, 17 of them were fined. The detentions were accompanied with the use of physical violence and obscene language by police. At the Tsentralny district police department the police made the detainees stand facing the wall for four hours. Some of them were severely beaten. Human rights defenders called on the prosecutorial organs to hold check-ups on the allegations of abuse of the duty powers by police officers and bring the guilty to justice according to the law.
On 16 September the democratic community of Belarus marked the 10th anniversary of the abduction of oppositional politician Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. The authorities still pay no interest to the disclosure of this crime and don't give any substantial answers about its investigation to the relatives of the missing persons. On the Solidarity Day Minsk police dispersed the action in the memory of Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski. More than 20 people were detained. Policemen in mufti banned journalists to make photos and videos of the events. The action participants were severely beaten during the detention and after it. Mikalai Statkevich suffered most of all. All detainees were guarded to the police department and later were released without getting any charges. Charges under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (holding of unauthorized mass action) were given to the detained participants of analogical action in Homel. On 17 September Sweden that was presiding the EU at the time, issued an official statement demanding that Minsk should stop using violence against peaceful demonstrators and guarantee to journalists safe conditions for their work in the country. The Belarusian Association of Journalists expressed its protest and demanded to punish the perpetrators of the grave violations of freedom of expression.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution remained an acute issue for Belarus: Young Front activist Artsiom Dubski was serving a personal restraint term in the Mahiliou prison. A part of figurants of the 'Process of 14' (Maksim Dashuk and Ales Charnyshou) were serving their terms of personal restraint at home, while some other ones (Aliaksei Bondar, Mikhail Kryvau and Tatsiana Tsishkevich) were still abroad.
On 20-24 September a group of international organizations dealing with freedom of press and media paid an official visit to Belarus. Member of the Civil Rights Defenders (former Swedish Helsinki Committee) Joanna Kurosz, a participant of this international mission, was denied Belarusian visa. Following its visit the delegation called on the authorities of Belarus to put the media sphere of the country in line with the international standards. Besides, the mission made some recommendations seeking to improve the situation of state and private mass media in Belarus, increase their professionalism, pluralism and social importance.
1. Freedom of association
On 3 September the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the cassation appeal of founders of the human rights association Berastseiskaya Viasna against the verdict of the Brest oblast court, thus upholding the ruling of the justice department of the Brest oblast executive committee about the registration denial. As said by one of the organization founders, human rights defender Uladzimir Vialichkin, the trial had predictable results.
The Ministry of Justice suspended the registration of the Belarusian Party of Workers and required additional documents about the order of its creation. On 21 September members of the organizing committee of the BPW filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against the actions of the Ministry of Justice. On 19 September they submitted a letter to the Ministry informing about their refusal to pass to it the minutes of the assemblies of the initiative groups on nomination of delegates to the constituent assembly. As stated by Aliaksandr Bukhvostau, Chairperson of the organizing committee, the demands of the Ministry of Justice on presenting additional documents were unlawful. The party founders hoped that as a result of their lawsuit to the Supreme Court the Ministry of Justice would stop 'conducting a repressive check-up of the establishment of the party'. The Belarusian Party of Workers is the legal successor of the Belarusian Labor Party that was liquidated in 2004.
2. Freedom of information
On 2 September Liudmila Prakopava, photo correspondent with the Intex-press newspaper, was detained on the territory of airbase #61 while watching the arrival of the bodies of the Belarusian pilots Aliaksandr Marfitski and Aliaksandr Zhuraulevich, lost at the air-show in Poland. Liudmila Prakopava and Uladzimir Yanukevich, chief editor of the newspaper who also came to the airbase, had to write explanatory notes. The journalist was released four hours after the detention. She pointed that it wasn't a military training or an exposition of new military weapons, but a socially important event. 'Of course, the military servants have their own understanding of professional duty. Pitifully enough, the professional duty of a journalist is insignificant for them,' she commented.
On 28 September in Rahachou, police detained Vasil Paliakou, Chairperson of the Homel oblast branch of the United Civil Party. This day the party activists distributed informational materials including the Satsyialnaya Abarona bulletin, within the frames of the campaign of the United Democratic Forces for returning the social benefits to the low income categories of population. At the police station the party leader was required to give explanations and then was released.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied accreditation to Viktar Parfionenka, a journalist with Radio Racyja, without providing a reason. The journalist received the negative answer only four months after he had filed the application for accreditation.
Well-known TV cameraman and photo artist Vadzim Arshynski was mailed a prosecutorial warning for violation of Article 11 of the law On mass media because of his cooperation with the BelSat Polish TV channel. 'The procuracy again demonstrates unawareness of the norms of the Belarusian legislation and violates it itself,' commented Andrei Bastunets, Deputy Chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. 'It is not the first time when they issue warnings without taking any explanations first'. On the count of the BAJ lawyers, since the enforcement of the new law On mass media the Belarusian journalists who cooperated with foreign media have been issued with 13 warnings for absence of accreditation.
3. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
The Minsk city executive committee (CEC) did not let the Right Alliance hold the picket Give Belarusian Children Belarusian School on 16 September in Druzhby Narodau Park. The official reason for the ban was that the action would allegedly block the traffic on Banhalor Square.
The Minsk CEC also 'recommended' the administration of the International Educational Center (IBB) not to lend the center's assembly hall for holding a party conference by the United Civil Party.
The authorities of Brest oblast didn't let activists of the United Democratic Forces hold 52 pickets against deterioration of the life standards. All actions were appointed on 30 September. The actions were organized by 48 regional activists of the Party of Communists Belarusian, 17 activists of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, 12 activists of the United Civil Party and 3 activists of the Belarusian Popular Front. In 47 cases the authorities answered that holding such actions was permitted at the Locomotive stadium on the outskirts of Brest only. The five activists who had applied for holding pickets at the stadium were told that a traditional football tournament would take place there on the day of their action.
4. Politically motivated criminal cases
The Deputy Head of the Supreme Court of Belarus issued a protest against the verdict of the Tsentralny district court to Ales Straltsou by which his personal restraint was changed to corrective labor with exaction of 15% from his wage. It happened after the Minsk city court turned down the appeal lodged by the activist against denial in parole. Then Mr. Straltsou filed a review complaint with the Supreme Court. The prosecutor issued a protest that was considered by the Presidium of the Minsk city court. As a result the verdict was abolished and Straltsou's case was returned for a second trial.
On 16 September the criminal cases board of the Supreme Court turned down the cassation complaint of the Vitsebsk human rights defender Leanid Svetsik against the verdict, issued to him by the Vitsebsk oblast court on 16 July (he had been found guilty of inciting to national and religious enmity). Judge Halina Urbanovich sentenced Mr. Svetsik to pay a huge file for having allegedly distributed threat letters on behalf of the Russian neo-Nazi organization Russkoye Natsionalnoye Edinstvo (Russian National Unity).
5. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 8 September Mikola Dzemidzenka and Marharyta Karol, members of the Young Front, tried to unfurl a streamer near the Russian Embassy in Minsk in order to remind the public about the Belarusian Military Glory Day. The guards called the riot police who pulled the activists in their car and guarded them to the police department. The following day the Tsentralny district court in Minsk fined Mikola Dzemidzenka 1 050 000 rubles and Marharyta Karol – 175 000 rubles. The activists were guarded to the detention facility in Akrestsin Street for the night before the trial.
On 16 September a court in Mozyr found human rights defender Pavel Nazdra guilty of violating Article 28.5 (failure to timely inform the draft board about change of the place of work) and fined him 105 000 rubles. According to the court's version, in July the activist got a new job and did not inform the draft board about it.
On 21 September a new political draftee, Young Front activist Yauhen Skrabets was taken to a military unity near Mahiliou for serving in the railway forces. Despite having serious problems with the dorsum making him unfit for the army service, the repeated medical commission that was held on the demand of the draft board, found him fit.
Andrei Tsianiuta, a Young Front activist from Homel, lodged a lawsuit against unlawful actions of the draft board, demanding to stop his unlawful drafting into the army. However, on 22 September the Savetski district court in Homel turned the lawsuit down. The Young Front activist also demanded to be examined by an independent medical commission, because in August he had been diagnosed with 2nd degree scoliosis, which made him unfit for the army service. However, the draft board directed Tsianiuta to the Homel oblast clinical hospital, for a repeated medical examination. The diagnosis was changed by decreasing the degree of scoliosis. As a result, on 25 September Andrei Tsianiuta was directed to a military unit in Zhlobin to serve in the transport forces.
6. Freedom of consciousness
On 9 September Kiryl Mazouka, Deputy Prosecutor of the Maskouski district of Minsk, drew up a violation report under Article 23.1 of the Administrative Code against the church pastor Viachaslau Hancharenka for not letting an inspector of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in the temple. Meanwhile, the refusal of the believers to let any officials in their church was a form of protest against the decision of the authorities to evict them from the building. This decision was taken by the general assembly of the Protestant community. On 30 September Alean Shelko, Judge of the Maskouski district court, fined Mr. Hancharenka 420 000 rubles.
The conflict between the New Life Church and the authorities dates back to 2005.
7. Activities of security services
On 23 September two people in mufti tried to burst into the apartment of the Brest journalist Zmitser Kisel, a correspondent with Radio Racyja, in order to forcedly guard him to the procuracy. The journalist says they were officers of the local KGB department. The following day Mr. Kisel received an oral warning for working with foreign media without accreditation. The case was initiated by the Brest oblast KGB department that even made printouts from all internet resources where the journalist's name was mentioned.
8. Tortures and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
The young activists Maksim Serhiyets and Aliaksei Sianchyla, detained and beaten during the violent dispersal of the peaceful actions of protest against the arrival of the Russian military forces to Belarus within the frames of the joint military training Zapad-2009, applied to the procuracy, demanding to hold a check-up and to bring the perpetrators to justice. In their complaints they presented a detailed description of the behavior of police officers. The HRC Viasna collected information on tortures and other kinds of cruel treatment towards persons detained for participation in the peaceful actions on 9 and 16 September. Human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich is sure that it should be done in any case, even despite the impossibility to bring the perpetrators to account in the near future. 'We are preparing complaints to the procuracy. Six complaints have been filed already. There we demand bringing a criminal case against the policemen who abused their duty powers. We unequivocally consider as tortures the beating of the detainees on the police buses and at the Tsentralny district police department. To my mind, these actions were demonstrative. Pitifully enough, it has turned into some kind of system.'
9. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
Katsiaryna Halitskaya, activist of the Young Belarus movement, was dismissed from work. Prior to this, the office of her company was visited by a KGB colonel. Earlier Katsiaryna faced problems at the place of study in connection with her political activities. At that time she was a member of the Young Front and was twice dismissed from work on political grounds. She has also been arrested many times for participation in street actions.
10. Prisoners' rights
On 7 September Mikalai Autukhovich was transferred from the medical department of the Minsk pre-trial prison to a common cell. His lawyer saw the prisoner the following day and told that he was looking emaciated and still couldn't eat the prison food, though he had stopped his long hunger-strike of protest almost two months ago.
The Navapolatsk entrepreneur Yauhenia Bochurnaya went on an indefinite hunger-strike of protest in the Homel women's colony #4. She did it after she was prohibited to buy any goods in the prison shop. Before this she repeatedly addressed the the procuracy and the MIA department of punishment execution with complaints about unsatisfactory prison conditions. In response she faced reprisals from the side of the prison administration.