Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in November 2009
In Belarus November started with the population's panic caused by the epidemic of an acute virus disease that often brought such complication as pneumonia. On 4 November Liliya Ananich, the first Deputy Minister of Information, stated the ministry 'will stop any attempts to misinform the population of the country'. The same day Valiantsina Kachan, Deputy Minister of Health, voiced the data from which it followed that 19 people had died of pneumonia during the two last weeks. All of them were tested for swine flu and in seven cases the tests were positive. This was all official information. Meanwhile, for 2-29 November 170 819 cases of swine flu and acute respiratory viral infection were registered in Homel oblast alone. 44.2% of the ill were children and 55.8% – adults. 3.3% (5 825 persons) were hospitalized. As of 30 November quarantine was declared in ten educational establishments of the Homel oblast.
November was also marked with an important international event: the EU Council took a decision concerning the travel ban for a number of high-rank Belarusian officials. The entrance ban for them was extended for another year, but at the same time there was introduced a 6-month moratorium on action of these sanctions. The question of extending or abolishing the sanctions completely depended on the situation of democracy in Belarus. The majority of analysts and politicians consider this decision as compromising. Bear in mind that five persons are still banned entrance to the EU, four of them on suspicion in being involved with the political disappearances in 1999-2000: former Ministers of Interior Yury Sivakou and Uladzimir Navumau, former Secretary of the Security Soviet Viktar Sheiman and Chairperson of the riot squad Dzmitry Paulichenka. The fifth person, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, faced the sanctions for involvement in rigging elections and referenda.
The US Ministry of Finances extended till 31 November 2010 the easing of sanctions towards two enterprises of Belnaftakhim concern – the Lakafarba Open Stock Company and Shklovalakno. During this period the US citizens are allowed to cooperate with these companies. On the other hand, since November 2007 the assets of Lakafarba and Shklovalakno remain frozen according to an appropriate order of the US Government resulting from human rights violations in Belarus.
On 16-17 November the Civil Society Forum took place in Brussels within the framework of the Eastern Partnership initiative. The main aim of the Forum was to facilitate the dialogue and cooperation between civil society organizations and governments of members of Eastern Partnership. The Belarusian delegation consisted of 27 organizations and the possibility of renewal of the Partnership and Cooperation agreement between the EU and Belarus was discussed.
On 11 November the international radio station European Radio for Belarus received a copy of the ruling of the Soviet of Ministers and the certificate about the opening of the correspondent station of the ERB for one-year period. Accreditation was issued to twelve journalists and technical officers of the radio. At the same time, on 13 November the press-service of the satellite TV channel BelSat distributed a press-release claiming that the perspectives of their third application for registration in Belarus remained unclear. The channel director Agnieszka Romaszewska voiced the following opinion: 'To my mind, registration of one of oppositional media in Belarus is an attempt to divide journalists into better and worse ones. It is a standard method of action always used by authoritarian authorities.'
Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities refused to issue an entrance visa to Agnieszka Romaszewska without offering any explanations for it. Romaszhewska was invited to Minsk Forum XII as an honorable guest.
PACE deputy Christos Pourgourides, known as the author of a comprehensive report on the missing public and political activists in Belarus, was invited to the Belarusian European Forum scheduled for 14 November. During a meeting of the PACE representatives with Andrei Bushyla, Head of the Belarus' mission in the Council of Europe, the latter hinted that the Cypriot deputy would be issued entrance visa neither at the Belarusian Embassy in Paris nor at Minsk airport.
Belarus also denied entrance visa to Emanuelis Zingeris, the Lithuanian MP who intended to come to the Belarusian European Forum for reading a congratulation letter from Irena Degutiene, Head of the Lithuanian Parliament. The Lithuanian MFA stated that such step of the official Minsk didn't correspond to the friendly spirit of relations between close neighbors.
On 30 November the draft law on amendment of the electoral legislation was unanimously adopted by the Chamber of Representatives of the Belarusian Parliament. The administration of the Central Election Commission presented it as a large step forward in democratization of the electoral laws. Nevertheless, civil society activists consider the amendments insufficient, as the rights of observers remain quite limited, which allows massive election fraud. The CEC also stated that the OSCE recommendations had been taken into account, while the OSCE insisted that they hadn't been familiarized with the draft law.
1. Death penalty
On 10 November in Minsk, a press-conference of the death convict Andrei Zhuk's parents took place. The mother addressed the President of Belarus with an open letter, asking to pardon her son, the death verdict to who came into force after his cassation complaint had been considered by the Supreme Court. During the event Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the HRC Viasna, stated that communications concerning the latest death verdicts to Andrei Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk
were accepted for consideration by the UN Human Rights Committee. He also said that the state organs responsible for execution of the verdict must suspend the execution till consideration on the merits of the complaints by the Committee.
On 15 November the Office of the UN Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights gave publicity to the information received from the competent state organs of Belarus concerning the individual communication submitted to it on behalf of the death convict Vasil Yuzepchuk. The Belarusian authorities claimed that Yuzepchuk's communication was illegitimate, because it had been filed before exhausting the national means of defense, as his petition for clemency was being considered by the President of Belarus. Besides, the Belarusian authorities denied violating Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and stated that Yuzephuk had been sentenced to death in conformity with the legislation of Belarus, raising the question of inadmissibility of consideration of Yuzepchuk's communication. The UN Human Rights Committee gave the opportunity to present remarks to this information from the side of Yuzepchuk by 14 December.
2. Freedom of association
On 12 November 'Santa Clauses' received an answer from Prosecutor General's Office, signed by Chairperson of the department of supervision over respect to civil rights and liberties Radyionau, stating that they would be drawn to criminal responsibility in the case their participation in an unregistered organization was established. Bear in mind that in October a group of Santa Clauses had surrendered to the Prosecutor General's Office with a confession to activities on behalf of an unregistered organization of Santa Clauses and asked to give a legal evaluation to them. The action was held within the frames of the campaign on the abolition of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code. According to Yury Chavusau, lawyer of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs, in its letter the procuracy paid no attention to the surrender of Santa Clauses and decided not to consider the legal situation that arose from this demonstration of the absurdity of Article 193.1, but confined itself to 'simple statement of norms of the Belarusian legislation on civil associations'. The Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs reminds that during the last four years 17 persons were punished under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code and the article is still in action.
On 12 November the organizing committee of the Belarusian Party of Workers filed with the Supreme Court a lawsuit against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the party. As said by the leader of the organizing committee Aliaksandr Bukhvostau to BelaPAN, the founders were of the opinion that the decision of the Ministry of Justice contradicts to the law and intended to prove at court having all documents necessary for obtaining the state registration for the party.
The main justice department of the Hrodna oblast executive committee refused to register the Slonim NGO Zalaty Leu. The founders of the cultural-educational NGO Zalaty Leu used to be members of other NGOs including the youth association Vetraz liquidated by court on allegations of absence of the legal address. Ales Masiuk, one of the founders of Zalaty Leu, believes that the decision on non-registration was politically motivated. 'The authorities continue the policy of non-registration towards the persons whom they label as oppositionists. We could have corrected all the defects they found in our documents for one day, but they blankly decided to ban us,' he said.
3. Freedom of expression
On 11, 13 and 16 November the Vitsebsk police detained Barys Khamaida, civil activist and distributor of private regional press. No detention reports were drawn up. Human rights defenders believe all detentions were connected with visits of high-rank state officials to Vitsebsk.
On 18 November, following the information on the EU's extending the restrictive measures against the Belarusian authorities, the Ministry of Information issued written warnings to four private newspapers – Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii, Nasha Niva, Narodnaya Volia and Va-bank, for alleged violations of the legal requirements in their publications. Though the 'violations' concern different articles of the Law On Press, all of them were issued for publication of 'inaccurate information'. In particular, in the warning to Narodnaya Volia the ministry mentioned an article calling the people to come out to the streets on the day of the presidential election. The reason for warning Nasha Niva became the article Flu Concealment Caused Epidemic of Panic. The warnings prescribe the newspapers to correct the 'law violations' within ten-day term.
Police detained journalists Aliaksandr Dzianisau and Aliaksandr Khilimonau at the Nioman glass factory in Biarozauka, though the detainees had a permission to come to the factory. The journalists were preparing information about the situation at the enterprise and the workers' dissent.
On 10 November the founder of the regional private socio-political newspaper Prefect Plus from the town of Hlybokaye (Vitsebsk oblast) was returned the documents he had sent to the Ministry of Information for the state registration of the newspaper. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, starting from September registration denials were also issued to the socio-political newspapers Soligorsk-plus, Novaya Gazeta Bobruiska, Mahiliouski Chas, Maryinahorskaya and some others.
On 19 November the Ministry of Information for the second time returned to the founders of the private newspaper Salihorsk-plius the documents they had filed for the state registration of the periodical, and stated that the newspaper's subject matter contradicted to Article 12 of the Law On press. Besides, the ministry reminded that the editorial board of the newspaper had still taken no action to find a legal address in a nondomestic building, which was the reason why the documents had been during the first registration attempt. The founder of the newspaper Uladzimir Shyla believes that the Ministry of Information just invents wire-drawn reasons for declining the documents. The BAJ lawyers share his opinion and think that the Ministry of Information abuses its powers.
On 25 November journalist Tamara Shchapiotkina, member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists from Biaroza, was invited for a 'talk' to the district procuracy. Deputy Prosecutor Fiodar Mikhnovich passed her a written warning for cooperation with the foreign radio station Radio Racyja without an appropriate accreditation. At the official blank the journalist wrote that he disagreed with the warning because she had the right to collect and transmit information as a freelance journalist. Mikhnovich answered that in the case of repeated violation she would be drawn to administrative responsibility.
4. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
Raman Kisliak, Iryna Laurouskaya and Dzianis Turchyniak, civil activists from Brest, filed individual communications to the UN Human Rights Committee about violation of their right to expression, peaceful assemblies and fair trial. All these violations concern the events that took place in the beginning of the year, when the Brest city executive committee hadn't authorized the pickets they intended to hold on 15-17 January in Hohal Street. By these actions the civil activists intended to draw the public attention to the question of construction of the monument to the 1000th anniversary of Brest. All Belarusian court instances to which Kisliak, Laurouskaya and Turchyniak applied, took the side of the local authorities.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 12 November Yury Kazak, Chairperson of the Navahradak branch of the Young Front, was summoned to the police department and informed about instigation of a criminal case against him. The law machinery suspected the activist of malignant hooliganism – smearing the local monument to Lenin with green paint on 7 November, the Day of October revolution. That day three activists of the Young Front including Kazak were detained by police. They were made to give explanations and then were let go.
On 24 November lawyer Tamara Sidarenka came to the Mahiliou penal colony to visit her client, political prisoner Artsiom Dubski. According to her, the convicted figurant of the 'Process of 14' kept a hunger-strike for three days to protest against actions of the administration of the penal colony who prohibited passing any books to him. Although the activist had no admonitions, the prison administration continued the unlawful restriction of his rights. Recently it has also come out that A.Dubski had been denied amnesty.
6. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 6 November the Minsk oblast court turned down the complaints of Uladzimir Maliarchuk, Ales Narkevich and Aliaksei Siudak, the democratic activists from the Vileika district who had installed a cross on 1 September in the place where Rastsislau Lapitski, activist of the Belarusian anti-Bolshevik resistance, had been shot. According to U.Maliarchuk, they were again accused of holding an unauthorized rally. Thus, the verdict of the previous court instance on fining of the activists was left in force.
On 7 November in Minsk, police preventively detained the activists of the Young Front Mikola Dzemidzenka and Nasta Palazhanka. The youngsters were detained in different parts of Minsk and guarded to the Pershamaiski district police department. In several hours they were released without receiving any charges. Police also guarded to the Kastrychnitski DPD Yury Karetnikau and Aliaksei Skuratovich, activists of the Right Alliance who intended to lay down a wreath of barbed wire to the monument of Lenin on Nezalezhnastsi Square to remind the people about victims of the Soviet regime. Police confiscated the wreath and booklets of the Right Alliance and took explanations from the detainees.
Political activist Ales Mekh lodged with the Kobryn district court a complaint against the unlawful actions of the police during this year's Dazhynki official feast. That day he was detained by police, ostensibly because of an anonymous telephone call informing them that he had drugs and firearms on him. A.Mekh was guarded to the police station and searched. He was released in 3.5 hours. The anonymous misinformer wasn't found. The activist asked the court to find the detention illegal and require from the procuracy the materials of the check-up on his case.
7. Right to alternative civil service
On 6 November the Tsentralny district court in Homel finished the trial of the criminal case against Jehovah's Witness Dzmitry Smyk accused of evasion from the army service, though the defendant didn't object to performing an alternative service even if it would be longer than the standard army service, as his religious convictions didn't allow him holding arms or support the army in any other way. Judge Ryhor Dzmitrenka found Mr. Smyk guilty and fined him 3.5 million rubles (about $1,250). Due to the absence of the law on alternative civilian service, the city draft board also dismissed Smyk's request for alternative service.
Activists of the Young Democrats, youth organization of the United Civil Party, launched the campaign Right Not to Shoot with the aim to inform the society about alternative civilian service. According to one of the campaign organizers, Fiodar Maslennikau, on 19 November the activists distributed informational booklets near the economical university. Activists of the Fund of Development of Legal Technologies participate in the campaign together with the Young Democrats.
8. Rights of national and religious minorities
On 9 November Eduard Shapiro, Ambassador of Israel, attended the international conference in Minsk dedicated to the Christian-Judaic dialogue. He stated that during the Soviet times the authorities had confiscated many temples and after the dissolution of the USSR many Christian churches were returned to believers. That's why the diplomat expressed the wish that the Belarusian state would pay attention to the synagogues built for Jews' money. He also expressed concern with the clear reluctance of the procuracy and police to bring criminal cases on stirring up national hatred even in evident cases.
9. Adverse discrimination of women
The Office of the Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights confirmed the registration of the individual communication of Inha Abramava, a civil society activist from Brest, by the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In her communication Inha Abramava appealed against her discrimination at the pre-trial prison of the Leninski district police department in Brest. The prison conditions were very harsh: cold, dirt, foul air and lurid light of an electric lamp. The prison is guarded solely by men, who looked in the spy-hole while she was using the cell toilet.
10. Politically motivated dismissals from work
The Ministry of Health Care didn't extend the labor contract to Pavel Bespalchuk, Rector of Belarusian State Medical University. One of the possible reasons could be his scandalous article in Vesnik BDMU (BSMU Courier) where he described the flaws in the state system of job placement of the university graduates and called the present situation 'a legal boundlessness that has reached its apogee'.