Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in October 2009
10 October is the World Day against the Death Penalty. The abolition of the death penalty or introduction of a moratorium on it is one of the priorities in the dialogue between the EU and Belarus. However, the Belarusian authorities show little progress in this issue. That's why in January 2009 the Belarusian human rights defenders launched the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty. They inform the population, collect signatures and distribute printed materials facing obstacles from the side of the state. In particular, the campaign activists from many regions of Belarus intended to hold pickets dated to the World Day against the Death Penalty. However, most of the actions weren't sanctioned by the local authorities. Besides, on 10 October in Navapolatsk, police detained human rights defender Zmitser Salauyou and the young activists Alina Kucharenia and Yury Palonski during an informational action.
Construction of the nuclear power plant and the reluctance of the authorities to discuss it still remained an acute issue in October. On 9 October the public hearings of the preliminary report about the evaluation of the environmental effects of the NPP were held in Astravets. These were the first hearings organized by the authorities – all previous ones were held by civil activists.
Ecologists, scientists, civil activists and journalists from Belarus and Russia gathered in the town, near which the ground for the station was being prepared. However, many of those who wanted to get to the hearings weren't admitted to them.
At 10 a.m., when the guards started letting the people in, one half of the cinema hall was already occupied. There were many people who were brought just to get the places filled. Most of them were the local dwellers indifferent to the upcoming construction of the nuclear power station there. As a result of this 'action' of the authorities many ecologists and civil activists couldn't enter the hall and had to stand at the entrance. However, when it was necessary to seat some state officials, people with the 'Volunteer' badges came and told some of the 'space-fillers' to go out.
Besides, the Astravets police detained the nuclear physicist Andrey Ozharovskii, coordinator of the Moscow group Eco-defense. Police confiscated from him about 100 copies of the Critical remarks on the preliminary report about the possible influence of the Belarusian nuclear power plant on the environment. At the same time, police didn't confiscate any leaflets in support of the NPP construction. In the evening Ozharovskii was tried and got seven days of arrest on charges of disorderly conduct and insubordination to police. The activist appealed against this verdict at the procuracy, but the latter took the side of the court.
On 16 October the regular Solidarity Day action took place in the center of Minsk. This day the chain of concerned people with portraits of the missing persons and political prisoners stood on Kastrychnitskaya Square for two minutes only. About 40 riot policemen in uniform and mufti pulled the action participants in police busses. Police interfered with the work of journalists and prohibited the present photo correspondents to take any photos. A total of 22 persons were guarded to the Tsentralny district police department in Minsk. Many of the action participants suffered from police violence during the dispersal of the action. Human rights defenders believe that this new tactics of the authorities is aimed at intimidation of demonstrators.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights Center Viasna prepared and filed with Manfred Novak, special rapporteur of the UN Committee against Torture a communication on the events of 9 and 16 September. Complaints of the victims of unlawful and violent actions of police and materials of questioning of eyewitnesses of the tortures were attached to this document. The human rights defenders inform that during the last years the procuracy has dodged giving the due legal evaluation to such facts and refused to instigate criminal proceedings towards the policemen who abused their duty powers.
1. Death penalty
On 2 October the Supreme Court dismissed the cassation complaint of Vasil Yuzepchuk who had been sentenced to death by Brest oblast court on 29 June. All national means of legal defense being depleted, an individual communication on behalf of the convict was filed with the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva. The author of the communication asked the Committee to urgently register the document and address Belarus as a member country of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights with the request not to execute the sentence till consideration on the merits of the complaint in order to prevent the irretrievable court error towards the convict. On 12 October Vasil Yuzepchuk's communication was registered by the UN Human Rights Committee.
On 17 November the Minsk oblast court sentenced to death another person, a 25-year-old resident of Salihorsk Andrei Zhuk. On 30 October 2009 the UN Human Rights Committee urgently registered the individual communication of Andrei's mother. The woman applied to the Committee after the College Board on Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court turned down the cassation complaint of her son and left the death verdict in force. Geneva office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights submitted to the Republic of Belarus information about registration of the communication and demanded from Belarus not to execute the sentence till consideration on the merits of the communication.
On 10 October the results of the contest of creative works within the frames of the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty were summed up. The contest was organized by the Human Rights Center Viasna, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian PEN-center and the Union of Belarusian Writers. The organizers chose four winners and gave them awards.
2. Freedom of association
Members of the oppositional Union of Poles in Belarus stated the increasing pressurization of the Ivianets branch of the organization. The State Control Committee, police and the tax inspection held a concerted check-up of the financial activities of the local Polish House because of an anonymous letter, and several times summoned to long interrogations Teresa Sobal, Chairperson of the local UPB branch. Police intimidated members of the organization with dismissal from work, large fines and other reprisals to make them leave the UPB. In the anonymous letter that served as the official reason for the check-up it was stated that the Polish House had received donations in 2000-2001, whereas in reality activities of the house started only in 2003.
On 15 October in Minsk the Belarusian civil activists held an action against Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code that envisages punishment for organizing and running unregistered organizations. A group of people dressed as Santa Clauses and Snow Maidens paid a visit to the office of Prosecutor General in central Minsk. They passed to Prosecutor General Ryhor Vasilevich a confession about 'acting on behalf of an unregistered organization of Santa Clauses' and asked him to give a legal evaluation to their activities. In such a way representatives of NGOs again reminded the authorities about the unacceptability of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code that outlaws virtually all initiatives of citizens and contradicts to international legal norms. In particular, the article envisages up to two years of imprisonment for activities on behalf of unregistered associations, religious organizations or foundations. The action was held within the frames of the campaign Stop 193.1 held by the Human Rights House network, the Belarusian Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs and a number of other civil society structures in Belarus and abroad.
On 22 October Brest human rights defenders received from the main justice department of the Brest oblast executive committee another refusal to register the human rights organization Berastseiskaya Viasna. Earlier the justice department considered the registration documents and gave the founders of the organization some time to correct the alleged mistakes. However, later the authorities decided not to register the organization, though the 'mistakes' were corrected. It was already the fourth registration denial to Berastseiskaya Viasna.
3. Freedom of expression
On 2 October in Minsk, activist of the civil campaign European Belarus Uladzimir Lemesh was detained by guards of the bicycle motor factory for handing out leaflets with the slogan For Worthy Work. The leaflets contained information about the trade union meeting scheduled for 7 October and sanctioned by the Minsk city executive committee. Nevertheless, U.Lemesh was guarded to the nearest police station.
On 15 October, on the eve of the traditional Belarusian Solidarity Day, police officers of the Minsk subway detained the activist of the European Belarus Maksim Viniarski who was handing out information materials about political prisoners. A violation report was drawn up on him, after which the detainee was taken to the Frunzenski district court in Minsk. The court found Viniarski guilty of violating the order of holding mass actions and sentenced him to two days of arrest. Police officer Sianiuk was the only witness at the trial. Maksim Viniarski was denied in using advocatory services.
On 29 October Vital Vashchylin, Judge of the Svetlahorsk district court, sentenced Sviatlana Mikhalchanka, Chairperson of the Svetlahorsk district organization of the Party of Communists Belarusian, to pay a fine of 1 225 000 (about $440) for handing out the party bulletin Levy Marsh on 3 September. According to the court verdict, the bulletin had incomplete imprint and was unlawfully distributed by the defendant at the check-up of the Lavsan factory. The verdict was issued on the basis of the inconsistent testimony given by police captain Andrei Sauchanka and some officials of the enterprise.
On 30 October in Homel, journalists Tatsiana Bublikava and Aleh Razhkou were holding a video questioning about the swine flu epidemic. Police officers Maksim Ihnatchyk and Ihar Tarasau approached them and demanded to show the permission for shooting the video. The journalists showed their press cards and explained that they were implementing an editorial assignment, but it wasn't enough for the policemen. The journalists were guarded to police station #1 of the Chyhunachny district police department for 'identification'.
4. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
The authorities banned the local assemblies on nomination of delegates to the Belarusian European Forum all over Belarus. The forum was organized by a number of democratic parties and movements and was scheduled for 14 November. In particular, the authorities of the Masty district thrice banned such an assembly. Aliaksei Shafarevich, Chairperson of the Masty district executive committee, explained the bans by saying that the applicants violated the law On mass actions by non-presenting the documents establishing their responsibility for holding the assembly. As a result of such policy, citizens had to gather in private houses and offices of civil organizations for choosing delegates to the European Forum. In some places such assemblies took place in apartments, yards and parks.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 21 October the presentation of the book Political Prisoners: Politically Motivated Criminal Verdicts 2008, prepared with participation of the Human Rights Center Viasna, took place. Having political prisoners is still an acute issue for Belarus though their release remains one of the main conditions in the dialogue between Belarus and the EU. The book includes documents of the most famous case – 'Process of 14'. Meanwhile, the process is still not over: only four of the eleven persons declared prisoners of consciousness by Amnesty International were amnestied, two more were trying to get amnestied through court while two others, Maksim Dashuk and Artsiom Dubski were given additional terms for 'evasion from serving the punishment'. Some of the figurants of the Process of 14 have gone abroad and could be imprisoned if they decided to return to Belarus.
6. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 2 October the Minsk district court found Ales Narkevich, Uladzimir Maliarchuk and Aliaksei Siudak guilty of holding an unauthorized rally near the village of Krasny Berazhok on 1 September. The action took place after the authorities dismantled the memorial crosses to victims of Stalin's repressions, installed by the democratic activists. A. Siudak and U.Maliarchuk were fined 1 050 000 rubles (about $376) and A.Narkevich – 700 000 (about $250) rubles.
On 13 October some activists of the Fourth Sector campaign were detained in Baranavichy while collecting signatures for protection of the Belarusian language within the frames of a campaign launched by the Young Front. According to one of the detainees, Yaraslau Hryshchenia, they also collected signatures for erection of a monument to the military pilots who had tragically died during the air show in Poland. At the police station the police accused the activists of violating Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code – disorderly conduct, and took them to a detention facility for the night. The following day the court in Baranavichy and Baranavichy district sentenced them to pay fines of 350 000 rubles (about $125).
In October, a number of democratic activists were tried in Homel for the mass action they and't held. On 16 September 16 oppositionists had been detained on the way to the place of the action of solidarity dated to the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of the politician Viktar Hanchar and the businessman Anatol Krasouski. On 13 October Vital Kozyrau and Yaraslau Paremski, judges of the Chyhunachny district court in Homel, fined Uladzimir Myshak, Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh, Chairperson of Homel oblast organization of the United Civil Party Vasil Paliakou, Maryna Smiahlikava, Ivan Zaitsau and Yury Zakharanka, member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Narodnaya Hramada. On 15 October Vital Kozyrau also fined Anatol Paplauny, Chairperson of Homel city organization of the Belarusian Popular Front, and Uladzimir Siakerka, Chairperson of the Homel oblast organization of the Party of Communists Belarusian. On 19 October Judge Illia Svirydau fined Valer Rybchanka, Chairperson of the Zhlobin district organization of the PCB. Yaraslau Paremski tried in absentia regional coordinator of the For Freedom movement Uladzimir Katsora and also sentenced him to pay a fine. All defendants were found guilty of violating the order of holding mass actions. The total sum of the fines is 10 325 000 rubles (about $3 700).
On 29 October in Minsk, police detained the European Belarus activists Nasta Askerka, Aleh Ladutska and Halina Piarvushyna and the photo correspondents Uladzimir Hrydzin and Yuliya Darashkevich. This day about a hundred of white-red-white flags were hung out in Nezalezhnastsi Avenue. All detainees were guarded to the Pershamaiski district police department in Minsk. The journalists were released in three hours. Violation reports were drawn up on the rest. The following day the Pershamaiski district court in Minsk found the activists guilty in disorderly conduct. A. Ladutska was fined 1 050 000 rubles (about $376) and Nasta Askerka and Hanna Piarvushyna – 525 000 rubles (about $188) each.
7. Right to alternative military service
In October the Tsentralny district court in Homel considered the criminal case against Jehovah Witness Dzmitry Smyk. The believer was accused of evasion from army service. Judge Ryhor Dzmitrenka and the state accuser, Prosecutor Ivan Kupchyn, asked officers of the draft board whether Smyk was offered to perform alternative service, and received a negative answer. According to the military commissar Tsatsaryn, the President's order about the summer drafting campaign mentioned only the usual military service and serving in the reserve. Alternative military service wasn't even mentioned there. The official also explained to the court that there was no alternative service in Belarus at all. The court decided to make an inquiry to the Defense Ministry about alternative service and get explanations from the republican organization Jehovah's Witnesses about its attitude to the military service.
8. Tortures and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
The procuracy still turned a blind eye to regular abuse of the duty powers by police and security services. Activists of the civil campaign European Belarus Yauhen Afnahel, Aleh Ladutska and Maksim Viniarski addressed the procuracy demanding to hold a check-up on their beating during the forced dispersal of the peaceful action in the center of Minsk on 16 July and bring the perpetrators to legal account. The answer of the Maskouski district procuracy in Minsk informs that the procuracy 'found no evidence of unlawful actions of police officers' during the check-up. The check-up was held by Assistant Prosecutor of the Maskouski district Kuchuhurny. Its results were approved by Deputy Prosecutor Mazouka. As a result of the check-up the activists learned the surnames of the policemen who had detained them: Belash, Chachko and Hil. The police officers also gave explanations concerning the complaint and stated they hadn't used any violence towards the oppositionists. We should remind that on 16 July riot police beat and insulted the detainees in the police busses and in the building of the Tsentralny district police department.
The activists who had been beaten during the peaceful actions on 9 and 16 September received answers from the MIA's own security department as well. Maksim Serhiyets, Aliaksei Sianchyla, Aliaksandr Siarheyenka and Aliaksandr Stsepanenka received identical letters signed by Chairperson of the third department Kisterny. They were informed that 'it was impossible to prove or disprove the use of physical violence by riot police within the frames of the duty check-up whereas the allegations of insults against the detainees were disproved by explanations of the police officers'. The materials of the check-up were passed to the Tsentralny district procuracy in Minsk for giving a legal evaluation to actions of the police.